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From The Texas Tribune
AUSTIN—Gov. Greg Abbott took sweeping action to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus across Texas, issuing an executive order that will close restaurants and schools, among other things last Thursday.
The executive order, effective until midnight April 3, will limit social gatherings to 10 people, prohibit eating and drinking at restaurants and bars while still allowing takeout, close gyms, ban people from visiting nursing homes except for critical care and temporarily close schools.
The executive order reflected federal guidance that came out earlier last week.
“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.”
The state previously had been deferring to local officials on virus related issues for business and school closures.
But Abbott said Texas’ historical approach to disaster response was being tested by a rapidly evolving situation. “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,” he said.
State health commissioner John Hellerstedt also declared a public health disaster earlier. Abbott said it is his understanding that the last time such a declaration was made in Texas was 1901.
Detailing the executive order, Abbott said that while dining in at restaurants is prohibited, takeout is “highly encouraged.” And while schools will be temporarily closed, Abbott said education should continue online or through other methods.
Abbott emphasized the executive order is not a shelter-in-place order, saying that Texans can still go to places like the grocery store or bank and that “all critical infrastructure” remains open. Employers can keep their workplaces open but should only use “essential employees” and allow others to work remotely.
The executive order could be extended beyond April 3 depending on the status of the outbreak in Texas.
“There have been questions raised about whether Texas as a state must immediately go into a shelter-in-place status,”
Abbott said Sunday, adding a few moments later, “We need to do several things first.”
He said his earlier executive orders are still fresh, and he wants to see whether what’s already been done is enough. He said more than 200 of the state’s 254 counties haven’t reported a single case of the coronavirus.
After saying that what might be appropriate for urban areas isn’t necessarily suited to rural parts of the state, he threw it to local control: “Local officials have the authority to implement more strict standards than I have implemented,” Abbott said. At this time, he added, it’s not the appropriate approach for the whole state.
Telling people to stay home as much as they can has certainly helped. Now the question is whether that’s enough. Some medical and civic leaders want Abbott to take the next step, to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order to minimize the spread of COVID-19, like Louisiana and other places have done.
Abbott also announced that Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Driver License Offices across the state are closing immediately. This temporary closure will not apply to those seeking an initial Commercial Driver License (CDL). DPS offices that provide CDL testing will remain open solely for the purpose of providing initial CDLs. Visits will be by appointment only, and can be scheduled by emailing cdlappointments[@]dps.texas.gov. This exception will allow commercial drivers to continue to ship goods across the state of Texas.
Abbott also lifted regulations to help the state meet the growing need for nurses.by ordering the following:
• Allow temporary permit extensions to practice for graduate nurses and graduate vocational nurses who have yet to take the licensing exam.
• Allow students in their last year of nursing school to meet clinical objectives by exceeding the 50% limit on simulated experiences.
• Allow nurses with inactive licenses or retired nurses to reactivate their licenses.
“Nurses are essential to our ability to test for this virus, provide care for COVID-19 patients and to continue providing other essential services,” Abbott added.
While there have been some concerns about what was being done in immigration and customs processing centers, ICE did announce that it was delaying the bulk of its deportations efforts and making efforts to move possible virus cases into isolation.