After being closed for weeks to stop the spread of the coronavirus, restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters, malls, museums, and libraries will be permitted to reopen Friday under certain restrictions.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday he will allow his statewide stay-at-home order to expire on Thursday, the last day of April. He announced a plan that would allow certain businesses who choose to do so to gradually reopen.

“A more strategic approach is required to ensure that we don’t reopen only to have to close down again,” Abbott said. “So consistent with CDC guidelines, based on advice from infectious disease specialists, we will open Texas businesses in phases.”

Phase 1 of reopening Texas starts on May 1. The second phase, which allows businesses to increase their in-person customer limits to 50 percent capacity, is slated to start on May 18, but would hinge on whether Texas sees a coronavirus “flareup” in the next two weeks.

What does this executive order change?

Abbott said his new executive order supersedes any local order. That means it overrides San Antonio’s current stay-at-home order, though Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Monday that the City and County would work on extending the stay-at-home order past April 30 in a way that aligns with the governor’s executive order. It also overrides the local mandate requiring people to wear masks in public places such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

Starting Friday, you can eat inside a restaurant, though the number of people that can occupy the dining room at any one time is limited to 25 percent of the restaurant’s capacity. Retail stores also are restricted to 25 percent of capacity.

What types of businesses can reopen?

According to Abbott’s executive order, the following may reopen, but social distancing must be observed:

  • Retail stores
  • Restaurants
  • Movie theaters
  • Malls
  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Single-person offices

Museums must restrict access to any interactive exhibits to prevent coronavirus transmission that way, Abbott said. The food courts, play areas, and interactive displays in malls must also remain closed.

Accompanying his executive order, the governor also issued a 64-page report Monday, which includes guidance for movie theaters and restaurants on how to prevent coronavirus from spreading. Movie theaters should make sure every other row is empty and space assigned seats at least 6 feet apart, while restaurants should limit seating to six people per table and use disposable menus.

Facilities that can continue operating include golf courses and tennis courts, but participants are limited to four people playing together at a time. San Antonio’s local stay-at-home order closed City park amenities such as tennis courts, splash pads, and basketball courts.

What types of businesses can’t reopen yet?

While some states have permitted hair and nail salons, gyms, and bars to reopen, Abbott’s order did not include those businesses. Some businesses inherently struggle with social distancing, and reopening them would not be in the best interest of Texas’s public health, Abbott said.

“There are some businesses that I want to open that Texans want open that the doctors advise we’re simply not safe enough to open it this particular time. … We’re working with our medical team, as well as working with members of the industry sectors, to open these businesses as soon as possible,” Abbott said. “My hope is that they will open on or no later than mid-May.”

Other businesses that must remain closed as of May 1 include:

  • Public swimming pools
  • Interactive amusement venues, such as bowling alleys and video arcades
  • Tattoo and piercing studios

What other institutions remain closed?

Abbott’s executive order expressly prohibits people from visiting nursing homes and other long-term care facilities unless providing critical care. That measure was first implemented in Abbott’s April 17 executive order. The City and Bexar County also prohibit people from working in more than one nursing facility at a time to avoid spreading coronavirus after an outbreak at the Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center infected more than 100 people – residents and staff.

The governor’s 64-page report also discusses at length how to protect older Texans.

“If we redouble our efforts to protect our most vulnerable senior citizens, we can reduce COVID-19 deaths, while also expanding business operations and increasing the number of Texans reentering the workforce,” Abbott said at Monday’s news conference.

Schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Can I attend church in person?

Abbott’s new executive order instructs that religious services should follow the most updated guidance from the attorney general and governor, which was issued April 21. That means places of worship should conduct services remotely as much as possible. If in-person services are held, social distancing must be maintained, seats should be disinfected, and everyone should wash or sanitize their hands frequently. The guidance suggests providing masks and gloves for ushers and not passing around things such as collection plates. Worshippers who are older, who have underlying health conditions, or who are sick should stay home.

Does this change social distancing and mask recommendations?

No. Though many businesses now have the green light to resume in-person operations, the governor’s report issued Monday still heavily emphasizes the importance of following public health precautions. John Hellerstedt, the chief medical officer of Abbott’s “strike force” and commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, wrote in the report that Texans must follow health guidelines. That includes staying at home as much as possible, washing hands thoroughly and often, not touching your face, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

The governor’s report still recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public, avoiding crowds, and staying 6 feet away from others.

Hellerstedt commended Texans for taking the coronavirus pandemic “very seriously” thus far, and urged people to continue to do so.

“We’re going to be asked to do some different things that allow us to become physically closer, but still remain out of range of COVID-19, and the things that we’ve outlined will do that,” Hellerstedt said at Monday’s news conference. “I’m confident that the people of Texas understand that and will have the discipline and the goodwill in order to follow these recommendations. And when we do so, I think you’ll find that we have reopened Texas very safely and will not have excessive rates of resurgence of COVID-19 in Texas.”

How will the order be enforced?

All of Abbott’s previous and current executive orders hold the possibility of fines up to $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail for violators.

“But the more primary enforcement would be either at the local level or the regulatory level,” Abbott said Monday. “And so for a lot of these businesses, they have an authorization to conduct business in the state of Texas, and if they violate the law – which, this is now the law – they’re subject to losing their license to have an open business.”

Not only does his executive order not make face coverings mandatory, Abbott stated that no jurisdiction can impose any kind of penalty or fine for wearing masks.

“My executive order … supersedes local orders with regard to any type of fine or penalty for anyone not wearing a mask,” he said.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.