Governor Abbott Announces New Developments in the State’s Plan to Reopen Businesses

Jackson Walker

Jackson Walker

Last week on April 28, 2020, Governor Abbott announced that as part of Phase I of the plan to reopen Texas businesses, retail stores, restaurants, and movie theaters would be able to reopen their businesses with certain restrictions on May 1. On May 5, the governor announced several additional developments in the state’s plan to reopen businesses, which are laid out in a new Executive Order, GA-21, and a set of recommended minimum health guidelines published by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

These developments include:

  • Barber shops and cosmetology salons will be able to reopen as soon as Friday, May 8—provided they adhere to certain safety guidelines.
  • Gyms will be able to reopen on May 18, again with certain conditions, including that they will only be able to operate at 25% capacity.
  • Nonessential manufacturers and offices may reopen at reduced capacity on May 18. View this article for additional guidance.
  • The Governor clarified that the restaurant seating capacity limitation of 25% applies only to indoor seating and does not apply to outdoor seating, while the same distancing standards apply to both.

Barber Shops and Cosmetology Salons May Reopen With Certain Restrictions

Governor Abbott announced that cosmetology salons, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons/shops, and other establishments where licensed cosmetologists or barbers practice their trade may reopen at 12:01 a.m. on May 8. Upon reopening, however, such establishments must ensure at least six feet of social distancing exists between operating work stations.

Additionally, tanning salons may reopen as long as at least six feet of social distancing exists between operating work stations. While not expressly in GA-21, the guidelines provided by the state and announced by the governor recommend that customers waiting for stylists should wait inside as long as social distancing may be maintained. If not, customers should wait outside or in their vehicle. The governor also recommended that these types of establishments operate by appointment only to avoid customers congregating in the waiting area. Both customers and stylists should also wear face masks.

Gyms, Exercise Facilities, and Swimming Pools May Reopen With Certain Restrictions

As part of GA-21, Governor Abbott announced that on May 18, gyms and exercise facilities will be able to reopen at 25% of the total listed occupancy, but with the caveat that locker rooms and showers at gyms and exercise facilities must remain closed.

Additionally, swimming pools were included in the entities that can reopen on May 8, provided that indoor swimming pools may operate at up to 25% of the total listed occupancy of the pool facility; outdoor swimming pools may operate at up to 25% of normal operating limits as determined by the pool operator; and local public swimming pools may so operate only if permitted by the local government.

The Ability to Host Major Life Events Is Expanded

Governor Abbott also expanded the ability to gather for certain major life events, including funerals, burials, and weddings, so long as social distancing practices are being utilized and occupancy restrictions are observed. During the press conference announcing GA-21, the governor recommended that providers and organizers of funerals, memorials, and burials implement limited seating arrangements, including skipping a row, requiring attendees to sit six feet apart, and encouraging at-risk populations to participate remotely, although these verbal recommendations were not included in the text of GA-21.

GA-21 provides express guidance regarding weddings and wedding receptions. Under the order, wedding venues, the services required to conduct weddings, and wedding reception services are permitted to reopen immediately with certain restrictions. Specifically, for weddings held indoors other than at a church, congregation, or house of worship, the facility may operate at up to 25% of the total listed occupancy of the facility. The same occupancy restriction applies to facilities hosting wedding reception services if the reception is indoors. Occupancy limits do not apply to the outdoor areas of a wedding reception or to a wedding reception that is conducted entirely outdoors. For Texas counties that have five or fewer cases of COVID-19, indoor wedding venues and wedding reception services may operate at up to 50% of the total listed occupancy of the facility.

Regarding graduation ceremonies, the state will permit graduation ceremonies consistent with guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in all counties starting on June 1.

Certain Establishments Remain Closed

The order explicitly prohibits the current reopening of certain establishments, including, but not limited to: bars, massage establishments, tattoo studios, piercing studios, and the newly added classification of sexually-oriented businesses. GA-21 also clarifies that businesses on the prohibited list that happen to offer reopened services (e.g., a restaurant housed within a prohibited business) may only offer reopened services but may not otherwise operate. This clarification follows recent litigation by Texas sexually-oriented businesses who have argued that their in-house restaurant services permit them to operate under the dine-in restaurant reopened service outlined in Governor Abbott’s now-superseded executive order GA-18.

Individuals are still encouraged to wear appropriate face coverings, but the order explicitly states that no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear one.

This executive order supersedes Executive Order GA-18, but does not supersede Executive Orders GA-10, GA-13, GA-17, GA-19, or GA-20. This executive order shall remain in effect and in full force until 11:59 p.m. on May 19, 2020, unless it is modified, amended, rescinded, or superseded by the governor. Additional guidance from the governor’s office is published on the state’s “Open Texas” website.

The Governor’s Executive Orders:
  • GA-18: Relating to the expanded reopening of services as part of the safe, strategic plan to Open Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster.
  • GA-19: Relating to hospital capacity during the COVID-19 disaster.
  • GA-20: Relating to expanding travel without restrictions as part of the safe, strategic plan to Open Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster.
  • GA-21: Relating to the expanded reopening of services as part of the safe, strategic plan to Open Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster.

More to Come

As noted in prior articles, the facts, laws, and regulations regarding COVID-19 are developing rapidly and frequently changing. Since the date of publication, there may be new or additional information not referenced in this update. JW will continue to provide up-to-date insights and virtual events regarding COVID-19 concerns.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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