AUSTIN, TX — Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday outlined a multi-pronged plan to gradually reopen the Texas economy currently stalled amid the new coronavirus outbreak — an initiative that includes keeping schools closed for the remainder of the academic year.
In mandating the extended schools closure, Abbott said online classes should continue to be utilized as an optional teaching method. The order directs all schools—including public, private, and higher education institutions — to remain closed for the 2019-2020 school year. Teachers may go into the classroom for video instruction, to perform administrative duties and to clean out their classrooms, the governor said.
Abbott also said state parks would be opened up again for public access as he cited their importance to mental health for those otherwise practicing self-isolation to help blunt the spread of illness. Despite the parks’ reopening scheduled for April 20, visitors must adhere to physical distancing guidelines, wear protective face coverings and limit groups to five or less, the governor explained.
Abbott’s plans to reignite the state economy by reopening businesses gradually comes amid growing illness counts and fatalities attributed to the respiratory illness. As of Thursday, the total number of patients afflicted with coronaivrus totals 16,445. Additionally, 29 more deaths were reported on Thursday from the previous 24-hour period.
The plan to reignite commerce in Texas — the world’s 12th largest economy — was sparked with three new executive orders to “to begin the process of reopening the state of Texas while revising hospital capacity and certain social distancing guidelines,” Abbott said.
To the end of restarting the economy, Abbott issued three new executive orders on Friday:
- The first order develops a strike force establishes the Strike Force to Open Texas — a team of nationally recognized medical experts and private and public leaders who will advise the governor on safely and strategically reopening the state of Texas.
- The governor’s second executive order relates to the “safe, strategic reopening” of select services and activities in Texas with establishment of a temporary “Retail-To-Go” model enabling retail outlets to reopen starting on Friday.
- The governor’s third executive order relates to hospital capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for the COVID-19 response.
‘Strike Force to Open Texas’ order
Effecting the plan will be the newly formed “Strike Force to Open Texas”
comprising nationally recognized medical experts and private and public
leaders advising the governor on safely and strategically reopening the
“Texans are battling a colossal challenge — an
invisible enemy that has tested our lives and our livelihoods — but
overcoming challenges is part of who we are as Texans,” Abbott said at a
noon press conference outlining the plans. “We have shown that Texas
can continue our efforts to contain COVID-19 while also adopting safe
standards that will allow us to begin the process of reopening Texas.
The Strike Force to Open Texas brings together nationally recognized
medical experts with public and private sector leaders to achieve this
mission. By coming together, we can get Texans back to work, practice
safe standards that will prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we can
overcome this pandemic.”
the advisory “strike force” will be James Huffines while Mike Toomey
will serve as chief operating officer. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House
Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Comptroller Glenn
Hegar will serve as consulting members, Abbott announced.
In addition, Abbott has appointed Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, as Chief Medical Officer of the strike force. Dr. Hellerstedt will be supported by three Chief Medical Advisors:
- John Zerwas, MD, Executive Vice-Chancellor for Health Affairs at the University of Texas System.
- Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner and U.S. Medicaid and Medicare Administrator.
- Parker Hudson, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Dell Medical School and program director for the Internal Medicine Residency.
Abbott said those health experts will develop a medical architecture to comprehensively test and trace COVID-19 that will enable Texans to gradually and safely begin the process of returning to work and other activities, he added.
The medical team will work alongside a special advisory council who will share innovative ideas to help businesses strategically reopen while containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the governor said. The council consists of 39 business leaders representing the state’s regions and industries. The advisory council will collaborate with working groups to devise strategies, statewide standards, and appropriate time frames to reopen the Lone Star State while prioritizing the health and safety of all Texans, the governor said.
The strike force will immediately begin providing input on potential additional openings of activities and services in Texas consistent with guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Abbott explained. To that end, the governor said he would announce a revised plan for the state based on these initial recommendations on April 27.
Members of the governor’s Special Advisory Council include:
- Arcilia Acosta: President and CEO, CARCON Industries & Construction.
- Paul Andrews, Jr.: Founder and CEO, TTI Inc.
- Mark Bivins: Rancher, partner in Corsino Cattle Co.
- Kathy Britton: CEO and Owner, Perry Homes.
- Brad Brookshire: Chairman and CEO, Brookshire Grocery Co.
- J. Bruce Bugg, Jr.: Chairman, Texas Transportation Commission.
- Alonzo Cantu: President & CEO of Cantu Construction.
- Bobby Cox: Owner and operator, Bobby Cox Companies, Inc.
- Adriana Cruz: Executive Director, Economic Development & Tourism Division, Office of the Governor.
- Michael Dell: Chairman and CEO, Dell Technologies.
- Scott Dueser: Chairman, President & CEO, First Financial Bank.
- Don Evans: Chairman of the President George W. Bush Foundation, Chairman of Permian Strategic Partnership.
- Tilman Fertitta: Chairman, CEO, and sole owner, Landry’s, Inc.
- Richard Fisher: Senior Advisor, Barclays and Former President & CEO, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
- Rick Francis: Chairman of the Board, WestStar Bank Holding Company, Inc.
- Printice Gary: Founding Partner/Principal and CEO, Carleton Companies.
- Brad Heffington: Owner of Heffington Farms, Inc. and Triple T Irrigation, Inc.
- Jeffery D. Hildebrand: Executive Chairman and Founder, Hilcorp Energy Co.
- Nancy Kinder: President & CEO, Kinder Foundation.
- Tom Luce: Founder and Chairman, Texas 2036.
- Marc McDougal: CEO, McDougal Companies.
- Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale: Owner, Gallery Furniture.
- Drayton McLane: Chairman, McLane Group.
- Elaine Mendoza: Founder, President & CEO of Conceptual MindWorks, Inc.
- Balous Miller: Owner, Bill Miller Bar-B-Q Restaurants.
- Carla Moran: Ramar Communications.
- Dennis Nixon: CEO and Chairman of International Bank of Commerce.
- David Oliveira: Partner at Roerig, Oliveira & Fisher, L.L.P.
- Ross Perot, Jr.: Chairman, The Perot Group.
- Kevin D. Roberts, Ph.D.: Executive Director, Texas Public Policy Foundation.
- Robert B. Rowling: Owner and Chairman, TRT Holdings, Inc.
- Kendra Scott: Founder and CEO, Kendra Scott.
- Robert F. Smith: Founder, Chairman & CEO, Vista Equity Partners.
- Sam L. Susser: Chairman of BancAffiliated, Inc.
- Massey Villarreal: CEO and President, Precision Task Group, Inc.
- Kirk Watson: Founding Dean of the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs.
- Marc Watts: President, The Friedkin Group.
- Graham Weston: Former Chairman of Rackspace Hosting Inc.
- Sanjiv Yajnik: President of the Financial Services Division, Capital One.
For more information about the Governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas, visit the strike force webpage.
‘Retail-To-Go’ model established for retailers
The governor’s second executive order related to the safe, strategic reopening of select services and activities in Texas establishes a temporary “Retail-To-Go” model enabling retail outlets to reopen starting on Friday, April 24. Under the model, reopened establishments are required to deliver items to customer’s cars, homes, or other locations to minimize contact.
3rd order loosens elective surgeries restrictions
The governor’s third executive order relates
to hospital capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for
the COVID-19 response. The order loosens restrictions on surgeries put
in place by Gov. Abbott in
March. To that end, beginning at 11:59 p.m. on April 21 through 11:59
p.m. on May 8, all licensed health care professionals and all licensed
health care facilities must continue to postpone all surgeries and
procedures that are not medically necessary to diagnose or correct a
serious medical condition of, or to preserve the life of, a patient who
without timely performance of the surgery or procedure would be at risk
for serious adverse medical consequences or death as determined by a
patient’s physician, Abbott said.
Exceptions now include:
- Any procedure that, if performed in accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice, would not deplete the hospital capacity or the PPE needed to cope with COVID-19, or
- any surgery or procedure performed in a licensed health care facility that has certified in writing to Texas HHSC both (1) that it will reserve at least 25% of its hospital capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients, accounting for the range of clinical severity of COVID-19 patients, and (2) that it will not request any PPE from any public source—whether federal, state, or local—for the duration of the COVID-19 disaster.
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In previously banning elective procedures to better accommodate coronavirus patients, Abbott included abortions as part of the restricted mix. Republican have long opposed the procedure, and pro-choice advocates were quick to criticize the inclusion of abortion in the list of restricted medical needs as one based solely on political ideology.
During Friday’s press conference, Abbott was asked whether the loosened rules apply to abortions, prompting a vague response: “We feel that we can begin allowing some procedures,” Abbott began. “In my conversation with the doctors before this decision was made, they were very cautious primarily because of the limited PPE[personal protective equipment]
still still for current hospital workers. Hence, it has opened up a little bit for more hospital procedures and for diagnotic tests — especially for those who may have serious illness in ways we do not think will compromise PPE supply in ways that will ensure there still will remain an adequate number of hospital beds for anybody who may test positive for COVID-19.”
After that response, the governor was pressed further if the now-loosened rules apply to abortions: “That is not part of this order,” Abbott acknowledged. “The way the order is written is in terms of what doctors write about the type of treatment that is provided.”
After the press conference, the Austin Chamber of Commerce issued a statement endorsing the governor’s plan. “As leaders of the Texas business community, we applaud Gov. Abbott for focusing on the incremental steps necessary to reopen the Texas economy,” Austin Chamber President and CEO Laura Huffman said in a prepared statement. “We recognize this effort will need to balance public health considerations while restarting economic activity in a phased and gradual approach that guards against subsequent spikes in infections.”
Huffman singled out the task force component as a critical cog of the plan to reignite the state economy: “While each of our communities is different, we recognize that businesses play a vital role in enacting specific measures to keep their workforce safe and thereby protecting the entire community,” the chamber president said. “We are encouraged by the governor’s willingness to work collaboratively with the business community. While COVID-19 will have long-term impacts on our state, smart policy decisions made now can greatly accelerate our economic recovery. We appreciate the governor’s leadership on this issue and look forward to working with the task force.”
Separately, Huffman noted:”We especially look forward to working with many of the Austin region’s own who have been appointed to the Governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas, including, former Austin Chamber board chair Sen. Kirk Watson, Michael Dell, Kendra Scott, Robert Smith and Adriana Cruz. We’re delighted former Austin Chamber board member James Huffines is leading this strike force. The work and insight these community and business leaders will provide is paramount to getting our region back to work.”
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