Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered the closure of all restaurant dining rooms, gyms and schools in a massive statewide effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The executive order limits social gatherings to 10 people, prohibits eating and drinking in restaurants and bars while encouraging take-out and delivery, bans visits to retirement centers and nursing homes except for critical care and closes schools while calling for alternative education methods. The order is in effect from midnight today through midnight April 3, Abbott said.
"This executive order ... does not prohibit people from doing things like going to the grocery store or gas stations or parks or banks," he said during a news conference at the state Capitol. "All critical infrastructure will remain open and operational. Domestic travel will be unrestricted. Government entities and businesses will continue providing essential services. Offices and workplaces, they remain open, but should only ask for essential employees to report to the place of work, and where feasible, allow and encourage employees to work from home, or other remote sites."
While it follows guidelines set by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and supported by President Donald Trump, the order marks a stark departure from the usual way Texas disaster declarations work. Usually such declarations empower local leaders to make decisions they feel are best for their area, and until this order, that’s how Texas was handling its response to COVID-19. But, Abbott said, the public health crisis isn’t a natural disaster like Texas has faced before. It’s an international pandemic requiring a different approach, he said.
"The traditional model that we have employed in the state of Texas for such a long time so effectively does not apply to an invisible disease that knows no geographic and no jurisdictional boundaries and threatens the lives of our fellow Americans across the entire country," Abbott said, adding the more people do to reduce public contact, the faster the executive order will expire.
The governor noted that since his disaster declaration a week ago, the number of confirmed cases in Texas had risen from 39 to 140. He previously warned the number would increase exponentially as more test kits become available. At the time of the news conference, there were three known deaths from the disease — a man in his late 90s in Matagorda County, a man in his 70s in Tarrant County and a 64-year-old man in Collin County. Hours later, two more deaths were announced — a man in his 80s in northwest Harris County and a man in his 60s from Dallas County.
"Working together, we must defeat COVID-19 with the only tool that we have available to us — we must strangle its expansion by reducing the ways that we are currently transmitting it," Abbott said. "We are doing this now, today, so that we can get back to business as usual more quickly."
Depending on the outcome of the outbreak, the order could be extended beyond April 3, the governor said.