AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: This story previously stated that the Texas governor issued a public health disaster. The article has been updated to reflect that the public health disaster was issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner.
Alongside Gov. Greg Abbott, a top health official announced March 19 a statewide public health disaster for the first time in more than 100 years due to coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. This is the first time a public health disaster has been issued in Texas since 1901.
The disaster declaration, issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, gives the state and local officials the tools and resources they need to combat coronavirus.
On the same day, Gov. Abbott issued four executive orders. One of those orders requires all Texas schools, bars, gyms and restaurant dining rooms to temporarily close. This order is not a shelter in place, Abbott said.
"We as a country must swiftly elevate our response to COVID-19," the governor said. "It is essential that all Americans comply with the CDC standards."
The executive orders will begin on Friday, March 20, and end on April 3. Abbott said these dates are subject to change.
During the March 19 press conference, Abbott was joined by Commissioner Hellerstedt, Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Here's what falls under Abbott's executive orders:
- Every person in Texas must avoid social gatherings that have more than 10 people.
- People should avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts or visiting gyms. There will be no dining at bars or restaurant dining rooms since they will be closed. Restaurants can still offer take-out options.
- People shall not visit nursing homes, retiring centers or long-term care facilities unless they're providing critical care assistance.
- All Texas schools must close temporarily. This does not mean that education stops. Superintendents will continue to work with the Texas Education Agency to continue online or additional educational options.
For offices and workplaces that remain open, employees are encouraged to practice good hygiene and work from home if possible, the governor said.
As of Thursday, there are more than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state of Texas, and more than 20 of those cases are in the Austin area alone. At least three people in the state have died due to coronavirus.
Restaurants are still allowed to offer to-go, drive-thru and delivery options. The governor is allowing some Texas restaurants to deliver alcohol with any food purchase. The alcoholic beverages include wine, beer and mixed drinks. This is in an effort to help the hospitality industry.
"The State of Texas is committed to supporting retailers, restaurants and their employees," said Gov. Abbott. "These waivers will allow restaurants to provide enhanced delivery options to consumers during this temporary period of social distancing."
On Monday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler ordered that the City close its bars and restaurant dining rooms, and service employees are already feeling the impact. If your job was impacted by coronavirus, here's what you should know, including how to apply for benefits in the state of Texas.
According to DSHS, here are a few ways Texans can help slow the spread of COVID-19:
- Stay home as much as possible, especially if you are sick, older and/or have a medical condition.
- If you are sick, stay home except to access medical care. If you are able to take care of yourself, stay home. If you need to see your doctor, call ahead.
- Avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and non-essential trips into the public.
- Cancel events of more than 10 people.
- Limit close contact (at least six feet) with other people. Employers should allow alternative work options as much as possible.
Here's Abbott's full statement regarding the executive orders:
"The State of Texas is at a pivotal moment in our response to COVID-19, and it is imperative that we act now on preemptive measures to slow the spread of this virus. One of the most effective ways we can do this is by promoting more social distancing and ensuring Texans avoid large group settings such as bars, restaurants, gyms, and schools where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is high. We must also continue to protect our most vulnerable populations, which is why the State of Texas is barring all visitations at nursing homes and retirement or long-term care facilities except in the case of critical assistance. Today’s executive orders are precautionary measures that are in line with guidelines from the CDC and they will strengthen Texas’ ability to safeguard our communities and respond to COVID-19. As Texans, we must continue to work collaboratively to slow the spread of this virus and protect public health."
In response to Gov. Abbott's executive order, the Texas Education Agency sent KVUE the following statement:
“We fully support the Governor’s decision to temporarily close schools statewide. As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of all communities across Texas, we are working around the clock to ensure that our school districts have the instructional guidance they need so that students can successfully pursue their studies at home. We know many questions remain over how best to do that.
TEA has already stood up an Instructional Continuity Task Force. We recognize that not all students have access to computers and Internet at home. With that acknowledged, there are still proven ‘low tech’ solutions (e.g. workbooks, homework packets, phone calls with teachers, etc.), that will allow students to get the instructional support they need during this time outside of the classroom. Our Task Force is working to ensure all school systems have access to the resources they need to support instruction remotely, whether ‘low-tech’ or ‘high-tech.’
TEA has also stood up a Special Education Task Force, as we help school systems adjust and adapt to supporting students in special education while those students remain at home or otherwise off-site.
It’s critical that during this time that learning gaps are not exacerbated. Fortunately, Texas parents and school leaders are bringing their usual mix of dedication, innovation, and creativity to the challenges our students currently face.”
For all of the latest Central Texas coronavirus news for Thursday, go here.
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