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Karen Brooks Harper

A sign out Salvation Pizza thanks residents for supporting local businesses in the Rock Rose area of The Domain in North Austin. (Karen Brooks Harper)

All retail stores, restaurants, malls, movie theaters, libraries and museums will be allowed to reopen with just 25% capacity this Friday, May 1, according an executive order issued on Monday by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Gyms, bars, barbershops and nail salons are among businesses ordered to stay closed, but that could change as early as mid-May, Abbott said.


The Republican governor's previous stay-at-home order, which allowed only essential businesses to open and required restaurants to serve to-go in an effort to curb spread of COVID-19, will expire this week.

"Now it's time to set a new course," Abbott said in a news conference Monday. "A new course that responsibly opens up business in Texas."

Abbott's plan has a testing and contact-tracing element, which includes increasing testing capacity to 25,000 tests per day in Texas, engaging 3,000 members of the Texas National Guard in mobile testing sites throughout the state, and building a team of up to 4,000 contract tracers to "box in" the virus, Abbott said.

The new rules also seek to strengthen protection of elderly Texans with new protocols for group homes and requirements that businesses follow extra safety measures with elderly and otherwise vulnerable populations.

Sole proprietors of all types may once again go back to work, not just those in essential industries. Outdoor sports with fewer than four participants are allowed again, and some travel and hospital restrictions were relaxed.

The order negates local rules that ban these businesses from opening, and wipes out face mask requirements and other stay-at-home orders across the state because the executive order will supersede county and city ordinances, Abbott said.

His office strongly suggested that Texans continue to wear face masks, but said they are not mandatory. Similarly, businesses are allowed to open, but not required.

If the current allowances don't result in a spike in coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths by mid-May, the rules will be further relaxed and Phase 2 of the reopening will go into effect on May 18, he said.

That includes an increased capacity for the businesses allowed under Phase 1 and perhaps more businesses added to the list, he said.

Abbott said he ran the entire plan by Dr. Deborah Birx, the Trump administration's coronavirus coordinator, and her team.

"She said the Texas plan was great," Abbott said. The Trump Administration and advisors "have truly been available to us on a 24/7 basis."

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen reminded Texans that limited capacity and increased protocols at businesses may slow things down at first.

"We're going to have to show patience," he said.

Nearly 2 million Texans have filed unemployment claims, Abbott said. Some 1.6 billion claims have been processed and $2 billion in benefits paid, he said. The economy has been on hold long enough, he said—even as social distancing and stay-at-home orders proved effective.

Last week, state parks were reopened and restrictions were loosened on surgeries in anticipation of the new order.

"The lives saved are priceless," he said, "but the price has been steep."

See the governor's plan here.

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