AUSTIN, Texas | Texas bars, restaurants and retailers will be allowed to serve more customers — in some cases immediately — under new orders from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday to further open the state economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Abbott’s order for “Phase 3” of the restart also allows for outdoor Fourth of July celebrations of 500 or more at the discretion of local officials.
Retailers are allowed to expand to 50% capacity immediately and the same applies to bars as long as patrons are seated. Restaurants can serve groups as large as 10 and can expand to 75% total capacity starting June 12.
The order also allows amusement parks to gradually expand capacity. All are supposed to follow health and social distancing standards recommended by state and federal officials.
The new order comes just three days after the state set a single-day high of positive tests. Texas has reported three of its four highest days of positive tests since March within the last week.
Heath officials reported 1,703 new cases and 36 new fatalities on Wednesday and state data showed the seven-day positivity rated jumped to higher than 6.6 %, its highest mark since May. 12. The true number is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks in most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
Abbott said nearly half of the positive tests came from prisons, jails, nursing homes and meat-packing plants where the state had concentrated testing forces in recent days.
“We have the ability to contain those hot spots while opening up Texas for business,” Abbott said. “If we remain vigilant, we will continue to mitigate the spread of this virus, protect public health, and get more Texans back to work and their daily activities.”
Texas has had record unemployment numbers amid the pandemic. The 12.8% unemployment rate reported in April was the highest dating back to 1976.
CAPITOL SECURITY OFFICER
A Texas National Guard member who was part of the security detail protecting the Texas Capitol during several days of protests in Austin has tested positive for the coronavirus, a guard spokesman said.
The member of the guard, who was not identified, has put in home isolation. Other security personnel the guard member worked with also were placed in isolation and will be observed to determine when they can report back for duty.
Texas Military Department spokesman Brandon Jones did not say when the member of the guard tested positive or how many other members of the security detail were placed in isolation.
State troopers and members of the Texas National Guard have been stationed around the Capitol after some protesters spray-painted and knocked over a fountain on the building grounds Saturday.
The infection within the security detail has not had an impact on Republican Gov. Greg Abbott or his staff, spokesman John Wittman said. Abbott has been working at a location away from the Capitol since Friday, Wittman said without elaborating.
“The governor has not been close to him,” Wittman said. “The governor’s staff has not been close to this guy.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
The University of Texas plans to have more than 2,000 classes online and residence halls will reopen when students return to campus in the fall, school officials said Wednesday.
Classrooms will be limited to 40% capacity for in-person instruction to help maintain social distancing and avoid the spread of the coronavirus, according to a letter from interim President Jay Hartzell.
The school — among the nation’s largest with about 50,000 students — has already announced that its 400 largest classes will be conducted online in the fall semester that starts Aug. 26. Students will be allowed to take only online classes if they choose, but will have to consider how that will affect their progress toward graduation.
Details of residence hall capacity and social distancing guidelines there have not yet been released. The school said a face-covering policy will be announced later.
Football players will be allowed to return to campus later this month with protocols in place for testing and social distancing. School officials said they also plan to offer voluntary testing of students and staff in the fall.
Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.