Governor Abbott Announces Phase One to Open Texas After COVID-19

Jackson Walker
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Jackson Walker

View 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.

On April 27, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott announced that he intends to allow the state’s stay-at-home orders to expire on April 30, paving the way for ramping up the Texas economy again in three phases.

In Phase I and by way of Executive Order (GA-18), all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls will be permitted to reopen on May 1st. These services must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy. However, for counties with five or fewer laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, the Governor’s order allows for increased occupancy protocols up to 50% for these particular businesses. Museums, libraries, outdoor sports, and single-person offices will all be allowed to resume with specific restrictions and varied social distancing practices enforced. Places of worship will remain open, and specific local government operations may reopen as determined by the local government. Businesses deemed essential by the Governor’s previous orders or by version 3.0 of the federal CISA guidelines can continue to operate; however, certain entities such as public swimming pools, bars, gyms, cosmetology salons, massage establishments, interactive amusement venues, and tattoo and piercing studios will remain closed through Phase I.

The Governor also announced a statewide testing and tracing program developed by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) that will help public health officials quickly identify and test Texans who are at risk of contracting COVID-19. The Governor outlined special guidance for Texans over 65 and detailed a comprehensive mitigation plan for nursing homes in Texas.

The Governor’s announcement is accompanied by Texans Helping Texans: The Governor’s Report to Open Texas. This report includes a series of Open Texas Checklists that outline DSHS’ minimum standard health protocols for all Texans.

Abbott said a second phase of business re-openings could come as soon as May 18—as long as the state sees “two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19.” According to the governor, that second phase would allow businesses to expand their occupancy to 50%, and could potentially include additional types of businesses.

Under GA-19, Governor Abbott relaxed certain restrictions related to healthcare professionals and issued amended requirements related to hospital capacity.

Under GA-20, the Governor eliminated the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for individuals traveling from Louisiana. Under GA-20, the mandated 14-day quarantine for travelers from the following areas remains in place: California; Connecticut; New York; New Jersey; Washington; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; and Miami, Florida. Those traveling “in connection with military service, emergency response, health response, or critical-infrastructure functions, as may be determined by the Texas Division of Emergency Management” are exempted from the self-quarantine requirement.

Governor Abbott stated that these new orders supersede all conflicting local orders. He also said his order preempts any local government that wishes to impose a penalty for not wearing a face mask—something the latest statewide rules encourage but do not mandate. In response, some public officials have questioned where the line falls between the governor’s authority and local public health orders. Since the onset of the pandemic, several lawsuits have been filed that call the governor’s authority into question and other lawsuits have challenged local health orders that are alleged to conflict with those issued by the governor. Order GA-18 states that it “supersede[s] any conflicting [local] order … but only to the extent that such a local order restricts essential services or reopened services allowed by [GA-18], allows gatherings prohibited by [GA-18], or expands the list of essential services or the list or scope of reopened services” set out in GA-18. As a result, local orders that are not preempted by GA-18 may impose an additional level of regulation on business activities, and businesses who may be subject to such an order should consult legal counsel for advice as they seek to comply with applicable laws and regulations.

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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