Kids waiting to swim at Alamo Heights Swimming Pool after the 10min break
Gov. Greg Abbott gave the go-ahead for barbershops, nail parlors, hair salons, tanning businesses, and swimming pools to reopen at 25 percent capacity on Friday. Credit: Stephanie Marquez / San Antonio Report

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took a step forward in reopening Texas businesses on Tuesday, including loosening restrictions on some involving close personal contact.

In a press conference Tuesday, Abbott gave the go-ahead for barbershops, nail parlors, hair salons, tanning businesses, and swimming pools to reopen at 25 percent capacity on Friday.

Abbott had closed these and other businesses deemed nonessential on March 31 to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Last week, Abbott began allowing businesses such as restaurants and retail establishments to begin incrementally serving customers beginning May 1 with the intent of further opening up the Texas economy in subsequent weeks.

“No one is being required to open up,” Abbott said Tuesday. “Every owner of every salon should use their own best judgment whether it’s May 8 or sometime after.”

Abbott’s announcement came as San Antonio’s Economic Transition Team released its own guidelines for businesses. The panel made up of local business leaders is asking companies to agree to seven practices, including maintaining 6 feet of distance and using hand sanitizer.

Julissa Carielo, president of Tejas Premier Building Contractors and one of the team’s co-chairs, said one of its tasks was to “create a marketing and PR plan that will restore consumer and visitor confidence.”

Many epidemiologists warn that coronavirus cases will increase as people continue to move more freely. Abbott admitted this in a Friday phone call with Texas legislators and Congress members, according to leaked audio obtained by Quorum Report.

“Listen, the fact of the matter is pretty much every scientific and medical report shows that whenever you have a reopening — whether you want to call it a reopening of businesses or of just a reopening of society — in the aftermath of something like this, it actually will lead to an increase and spread,” Abbott said in the call.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff expressed uncertainty about Abbott’s decision when asked about it during Tuesday’s daily evening briefing, but emphasized the governor’s authority supersedes theirs.

“One of the challenges is we don’t know the impact of choices we make in terms of opening activities and loosening social distancing for two or three weeks after we make them,” Nirenberg said, referring to the lag between when people contract the virus and when they test positive.

On Tuesday, Abbott said Texas is prepared to handle any flare-ups or outbreaks of the coronavirus.

“Texas is fully capable of managing the health care needs of everybody who contracts COVID-19,” Abbott said, adding that there’s “no evidence” the state will see hospitals overwhelmed as they were in cities such as New York, New Orleans, and Detroit.

Abbott also announced the creation of “surge response teams” involving multiple state agencies that can respond to any flare-ups that occur. He made it clear that it’s up to individuals to continue the social distancing measures that have so far slowed the rate of infections and hospitalizations in the state.

“If Texans stop using the distancing strategies they’ve been utilizing for the past month, they will cause an increase in [coronavirus] transmission,” Abbott said. “If that happens, it could lead to some counties having to impose stricter standards.”

As of late Tuesday, more than 427,000 in Texas have been tested for coronavirus, all but approximately 14,000 from private labs. Of the more than 15,500 active cases, 1,888 people are hospitalized, and 906 have died.

Abbott said Tuesday that 19,000 people per day are being tested, still well short of the State’s goal of 30,000.

Under the governor’s Tuesday orders, gyms and exercise facilities, manufacturing sites, and office buildings can reopen on May 18. Gyms and manufacturers also will be required to adhere to the 25 percent capacity rule, among other guidelines. Offices can open at 25 percent or with up to five people present, whichever is greater.

Wolff said he wasn’t sure what Abbott meant by reopening “nonessential manufacturing.” In Bexar County, manufacturers have been operating since March 23, he said.

Weddings are now cleared to resume immediately, the governor said, though indoor receptions are limited to 25 percent capacity. The order creates a complicated arrangement for indoor wedding ceremonies. They’re allowed at 25 percent capacity unless they’re at a church, congregation, or house of worship, in which case, there are no gathering limits. Churches were exempt from Abbott’s original order banning nonessential businesses.

Abbott stopped short of reopening bars and night clubs, offering no date for when drinking establishments might open their doors. Currently, restaurants that attribute 51 percent of their overall profits to food sales can serve patrons in their bar areas.

“It’s really the type of setting that promotes the transmission of infectious disease,” Abbott said regarding bars and night clubs.

Also on Tuesday, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath cleared schools to host in-person graduation ceremonies if they follow certain restrictions, such as gathering in small groups or vehicle ceremonies with students driving up to a stage to accept their diplomas. Outdoor ceremonies will be permitted on or after June 1, Morath said.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.