- Screen Capture / Texas Tribune
Those same businesses would be able to expand to 50% capacity on May 18, provided the state does not see an upswing in COVID-19 cases by that time. Bars, hair salons and gyms would need to wait until later, likely mid-May before they can open.
"This strategic approach to opening the state of Texas prioritizes the health and safety of our communities and follows the guidelines laid out by our team of medical experts," said Abbott, who's been promising for weeks to unveil plans to reopen nonessential businesses.
With the state hitting historic unemployment levels as it struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the Republican governor faces intense pressure to re-engage the economy.
However, critics say the newly announced plan comes before the state's COVID-19 cases have peaked. They also warn that Texas, which ranks near the bottom in testing, hasn't gathered enough data to know whether it's truly safe to invite the public into stores and restaurants.
“We all want businesses to safely reopen as soon as possible, and that’s why I’m disappointed we did not hear more details on how Texas’ COVID-19 testing would increase," said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "We’re near last in the nation on per-capita testing, and Gov. Abbott didn’t present a clear plan how that’s going to change, even though experts agree that widespread testing is essential to any reopening plan."
As of April 27, there were 25,297 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, and total of 663 Texans have so far died. Over the weekend, the state tallied a 967 day-to-day jump in cases, one of the highest ever, and Tarrant County last week reported a weekly high of nearly 800 new cases.
However, as of April 22, only 0.71% of Texas residents had been tested for the coronavirus, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
During the press conference, Abbott outlined plans to expand the number of people tracing the spread of the coronavirus from 1,100 to 4,000. He also said the state, local governments and private testing sites should be able to hit the state's goal of testing 25,000 people per day.
Even so, that number falls short of a recent study issued by the Harvard Global Health Institute, which estimates that Texas must do nearly 45,000 tests daily to safely reopen businesses.
“An exit strategy, as we call this, is sort of difficult to suppose right now,” Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Texas A&M University School of Public Health, told the Texas Tribune. “The risk being that as soon as we lift restrictions, whatever that strategy is, if it’s gradual or tiered or certain sectors of the economy or population are released first, we can certainly expect to see a spike in cases.”
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.