Raul Ortiz begins tracing Diamond Huerta's tattoo.
Gov. Greg Abbott reopened tattoo studios along with other businesses effective Monday. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In his latest attempt to reinvigorate the Texas economy, Gov. Greg Abbott laid out dates to once again allow residents to visit bars and bowling alleys, among most other businesses.

Starting now through mid-June, nearly every type of business except for theme parks and live concerts are allowed to open in some capacity, Abbott said in a Monday press conference. The decision comes as Texas sees a steady rise in the number of new cases reported each day since Abbott’s reopening policies began May 1.

Abbott also acknowledged recent coronavirus outbreaks in the Amarillo and El Paso areas, where the relaxed regulations he unveiled Monday will be delayed one week. The State has sent surge response teams to those areas to help ramp up testing, contact tracing, and treatment, he said.

“COVID-19 still exists in Texas,” the governor said. “Our goal is to find ways to coexist with COVID-19 as safely as possible.”

The governor outlined his latest orders on a webpage with 50 PDF documents of requirements and recommendations for reopening. Here’s a guide to the reopening schedule, based on those documents:

May 18

  • Gyms, office buildings, and manufacturing sites reopened Monday at 25 percent occupancy.
  • Abbott reopened massage services, electrolysis, waxing, tattoo studios, piercing studios, and hair loss treatment and growth services effective Monday.
  • Child care centers and youth clubs are now reopened.

May 22

  • Bars, craft breweries, and wine tasting rooms can all open at 25 percent capacity.
  • Restaurants previously at 25 percent capacity can up their patronage to 50 percent of occupancy.
  • Movie theaters, retail, museums, and libraries all must stay at 25 percent capacity for an undetermined amount of time.
  • Bowling alleys, bingo halls, rodeos, equestrian events, simulcasting businesses, and skating rinks can reopen at 25 percent capacity.
  • Aquariums, natural caverns open for tourism, and “similar facilities” can reopen up to 25 percent of capacity.

May 29

  • Zoos can reopen at “25 percent of the normal operating limits as determined by the zoo owner.”

May 31

  • Professional basketball, baseball, car racing, football, golf, softball, and tennis leagues will be allowed to reopen on a case-by-case basis without in-person spectators.

    Professional leagues must apply the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) for approval to hold sporting events. The application must include “a plan that incorporates applicable minimum standard health protocols recommended by the DSHS. The DSHS will make the decision “in consultation” with Abbott’s office and his Strike Force to Reopen Texas.
  • Day and overnight youth camps reopen May 31.
  • Youth sports teams may begin holding practices with only one parent or guardian per participant present as a spectator. They can begin holding competitions with or without spectators on June 15. Abbott’s orders encourage spectators to maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing.

Following the governor’s announcement, Texas statehouse Democrats were among those accusing Abbott of cherry-picking data to support a hasty reopening. 

“We’re simply not in a place that we’re ready for this,” said State Rep. Eugene Wu, D-Houston, in a Monday call. “All the sacrifices that we made so far was to buy time for the state and federal governments to prepare to get us ready to reopen, and we have squandered that time.” 

Approximately 25,000 people per day can now be tested across Texas, Abbott said. The number is still a bit short of the governor’s previously stated goal of 30,000 per day.

However, one issue that drew focus Monday was the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) posting of tests results mingling data from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and antibody tests, as first reported by the Texas Observer. Abbott denied the data were being commingled when asked about it on Monday.

The mixed data call into question Abbott’s conclusions on testing. PCR tests determine whether someone is currently infected and possibly contagious. Antibody tests are used to determine immunity, with many of those available for coronavirus not considered reliable. DSHS officials have told media outlets and elected officials that they plan to begin releasing the data separately. 

As for San Antonio data, the City’s Metropolitan Health District does not provide data from antibody tests on its website, Bridger said. That means Metro Health’s results are only for PCR tests. 

In San Antonio, local officials have met their goal of enough capacity to test 3,000 people per day. However, only an average of 1,500 people per day are seeking testing, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said at the briefing Monday.  

At their Monday briefing, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff maintained an “it is what it is” posture about Abbott’s orders, which supersede theirs. 

“I believe because we’ve done so well here, better than any other metropolitan area, we’re going to be able to handle it,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who added he had eaten at multiple local restaurants recently. 

“If every business will handle it the right way, I think it’s going to be OK,” Wolff said. 

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