By Gary Bass | March 19, 2020 at 12:30 PM CDT - Updated March 19 at 1:29 PM AUSTIN, Texas (KLTV) -
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed an executive order banning gatherings of 10 or more, dining in restaurants and closing gyms, among other measures. Bars will also be closed until the executive order expires.
During the press conference on Thursday, Abbott said that the executive order will go into effect at midnight on Friday, and it will remain in effect until midnight on April 3. He added that it could be extended further, depending on the status of the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Texas.
Abbott said the COVID-19 situation has changed drastically since he issued his disaster declaration on Friday. At that time, there were only 39 confirmed cases in 10 counties. Now, that number has grown to 140 people in 27 different counties.
The governor added that, to date, at least three people have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Abbott said people should not visit nursing homes or retirement centers unless it is for critical assistance. He also said all schools are temporarily closed. Instead, the superintendent should continue to work with the Texas Education Agency to continue online or additional educational options, Abbott said.
“This does not mean education stops,” Abbott said. “Online or additional options should be used.”
Abbott said the order does not prohibit grocery stores, parks, gas stations or banks.
Although the executive order prohibits people from dining in at restaurants, Abbott said Texas’ leadership is encouraging people to support their local restaurants by going through drive-thrus or calling in to pick up their food.
“The State has quarantine authority now," Abbott said. "We don’t want to have to exercise it, but we will if we have to.”
The executive order is not telling Texans to “shelter in place,” Abbott said. It doesn’t prohibit people from going to grocery stores, gas stations, parks, or banks. All of the state’s infrastructure will remain open, and domestic travel is not going to be restricted, the governor said. The usual services offered by local governments will continue to be available, Abbott said.
Abbott said that offices and workplaces should remain open. However, he added that employers should only ask essential employees to come to work, non-essential employees should be allowed to work from home, he said. Those people who do go to work during the next few weeks should continue the safe hygiene practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, Abbott said. They should wash their hands frequently, avoid being closer than six feet to co-workers, and sanitize frequently touched surfaces.
During the question-and-answer part of the press conference, Abbott said that state officials have been working to accelerate the process for people to obtain unemployment benefits. Abbott said that Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas State Department of Health Services, issued the state’s first public health disaster declaration since 1901 earlier Thursday. He explained that this measure gives state, county, and local health officials important tools to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
“Texans have rallied in other times of crisis,” Abbott said. “We can do it again. These measures will allow us to get back to business as usual as soon as possible.”
During the press conference, Hellerstedt said the COVID-19 pandemic is the most serious health issue in Texas’ history. “We as Texans all need to endure the sacrifices that are necessary to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities,” Hellerstedt said. Hellerstedt also said Texans should expect to see a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases over the next two weeks or so as more people are tested for the coronavirus. Copyright 2020 KLTV/KTRE. All rights reserved.