This story has been updated.

The “Stay Home, Work Safe” order has been updated by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff with new guidelines after Gov. Greg Abbott issued a new executive order allowing some businesses to reopen.

The local orders, which were extended on April 29, formally mandate individuals to stay at home, with social gatherings outside of a household prohibited to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. 

Starting May 1, restaurants, retail stores, malls, museums, and movie theaters can reopen with occupancy limits.

Starting May 8, barbershops, hair salons, nail parlors, tanning businesses, and swimming pools can also reopen with occupancy limits.

Starting May 18, gyms, manufacturing facilities, and offices can reopen with occupancy limits.

New orders issued April 29 by Nirenberg and Wolff follow the governor in allowing those businesses to operate with certain restrictions. Bars must stay closed under the new local orders, but restaurants may allow in-person dining if they limit their customers to 25 percent of their occupancies.

Bingo parlors, bowling alleys, health studios, commercial amusement businesses, and other entertainment businesses confined to a single indoor space remain closed under the local orders.

San Antonio residents ages 10 and older are required to wear cloth face coverings – which could include homemade masks, scarfs, bandanas, or a handkerchief – in public spaces where social distancing is difficult, such as at the grocery store or pharmacy. Face coverings are not required when exercising outside, driving alone or with people in your household, pumping gas or operating outdoor equipment, in a building that requires security surveillance, or eating or drinking. Local entities can no longer fine those who violate the mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott said April 27.

As of April 29, 1,326 people have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus in Bexar County. The first local COVID-19 death occurred on March 21.

“Stay home unless you must go out,” Nirenberg said in a statement March 22. “Follow the health experts’ guidelines. We can all play a role in saving lives through social distancing and healthy behaviors. Together we will overcome this challenge.”

So what activities are allowed now?

People can still shop for groceries, pick up prescriptions, visit the doctor, fill up their gas tanks, and go to work if necessary. Starting May 1, they can visit retail stores that choose to reopen but must observe occupancy limits and social distancing. Some stores might require face masks in order to enter. Restaurants that reopen also have occupancy limits.

A young woman walks her dog at the Pearl. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Parks are open, but you should still practice proper social distancing. That means not playing soccer the way you usually would – substitute a pickup game for just kicking the soccer ball around.

You can still visit family members under the stay-at-home order, which includes picking up your child as part of a custody agreement. The order does not prevent family members from interacting as long as the gathering is small.

“What we’re going to try and discourage is the big barbecues in the backyard, the quinceañeras, the birthday celebration that we’ve been looking forward to,” Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said.

The governor’s executive order, which Bexar County incorporated into its stay-at-home declaration, prohibits unnecessary visits to nursing homes, retirement homes, and long-term care facilities.

What businesses remain shut down?

Massage parlors still must stay closed. Vape shops, smoke shops, tattoo and piercing studios, and “sexually-oriented businesses” are also not exempt from the stay-at-home order. In his May 5 order, Abbott also required interactive amusement venues such as bowling alleys, video arcades, amusement parks, water parks, or splash pads to stay closed.

Abbott’s April 27 order allows people to play outdoor sports as long as they limit participation to four players.

On March 27, the mayor and county judge both ordered the closure of basketball courts, outdoor exercise equipment, playgrounds, skate plazas, and splash pads at City and County parks. At City parks, community and adult/senior centers, clubhouses, and gyms will also be closed, and all classes and programming suspended. Nirenberg urged people to follow social distancing guidelines in public spaces.

“We have observed congregating in our public parks this weekend,” Nirenberg said on March 29. “That’s not good; it is not allowed. You should go out and get fresh air, but congregating in parks or anywhere else is not permitted.”

What businesses are open under ‘Stay Home, Work Safe?’

Businesses that have exemptions under the order include the following:

  • Health care operations (and yes, that includes your veterinarian)
  • Government functions such as trash collection, water and electric utilities, first responders, and military
  • Schools, education personnel, and colleges and universities that facilitate remote learning
  • Companies providing or maintaining infrastructure, like public works construction, housing construction, architecture firms, water, sewer, gas, electricity, and internet
  • Transportation-related businesses such as gas stations, repair shops, car dealerships, manufacturers, public transportation, and the airport
  • Information technology companies
  • Call centers
  • Businesses that sell food, gas, and household products 
  • Liquor stores
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners
  • Charitable organizations providing food, shelter and services
  • Animal shelters and animal care organizations
  • Hotels and Airbnbs
  • Home maintenance businesses such as electricians and exterminators
  • Businesses that help people work from home, such as shipping companies
  • Businesses that help people comply with legally required activities, such as accounting services
  • News media
  • Financial institutions
  • Child care services for essential workers
  • Worship services
  • Funeral services
  • Business and operations necessary to the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the National Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA.)

The work-from-home order does not apply to state and federal employees.

Essential businesses such as grocery stores are encouraged to limit the number of people inside to 25 percent of their capacities. Some stores have already been enforcing in-person customer totals.

Retail stores and malls may allow in-person shopping, so long as they limit the number of people inside to 25 percent of their capacities, according to the local orders issued April 29. Movie theaters, museums, and libraries have the same guidelines. Seating must be spaced out to maintain social distancing, and lines outside of businesses must space people 6 feet apart.

Single-person offices also may resume activity under the April 29 order.

Barbershops, hair salons, nail parlors, and tanning businesses with limited capacity under Abbott’s May 5 executive order. Gyms can also open with limited capacity starting May 18.

How is this going to be enforced? Am I going to have to prove I’m going to work or to a store?

“San Antonio police [and Bexar County sheriffs] are not going to pull you over if you’re outside of your home,” Assistant City Attorney Liz Provencio said. “You do not need a permission slip.”

Law enforcement is going to be keeping tabs on businesses – not residents – to make sure they are compliant with the order, Gonzales said. “We’re going to operate under the assumption that you have a legitimate [reason] to be out on the street.”

Violating the order comes with an up to $2,000 fine and possible jail time, but so far all businesses who have been notified of a violation have taken corrective measures.

“We’re going to give people [and businesses] the benefit of the doubt,” Gonzales said, as the last thing Bexar County needs is more prisoners.

The only thing in the orders that cannot be enforced with a fine is the face mask requirement; Abbott expressly prohibited local entities from doing so. On May 7, Abbott also prohibited the use of jail time for violating local or state stay-at-home orders.

What is social distancing?

In short, no hugs or handshakes.

The general rule for proper social distancing is staying at least 6 feet away from others. H-E-B is one of the stores to mark that distance with large stickers, so that shoppers know the distance to keep between them and other shoppers.

Social distancing also means keeping sick people away from healthy people so that the new coronavirus can’t spread further. The problem with practicing social distancing comes from people who are asymptomatic but still carrying the coronavirus – they can still infect people without symptoms.

“Social interactions are fine,” said Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, a local infectious disease epidemiologist and consultant. “Physical distance is essential. And a 6-foot distance must be maintained.”

In the Municipal Plaza “B” Room, tape marks an appropriate social distancing measurement between people while standing in front of the room. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In order to prevent spreading COVID-19, the CDC recommends people practice social distancing. But Rohr-Allegrini said keeping up with friends from a safe distance outside works just fine.

Because older folks are particularly susceptible to infection, the governor has banned visits to nursing homes, retirement homes, and long-term care facilities. Certain conditions also seem to make individuals more at risk, so take care when you visit people with diabetes, suppressed immune systems, or who are pregnant. And if you’re healthy, avoid people who are sick.

What about isolation and quarantine?

These two words are different from social distancing and shelter in place. 

“Quarantine is a legal term which means you’re required by law to remain in a certain place,” Rohr-Allegrini said. “When we do quarantine for [tuberculosis], that means we keep someone under lock and key. But when they’re isolated, they’re isolated at home.”

According to the CDC, “isolation” is used for someone who either has been positively diagnosed with the new coronavirus or is believed to be infected. While health authorities can mandate isolation, individuals who think they may have been infected can self-isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Quarantine” refers to people who believe they have been exposed to the coronavirus but have not yet been diagnosed or shown symptoms of COVID-19 that are staying away from others to avoid spreading the coronavirus. The CDC recommends quarantined people to monitor symptoms for 14 days.

And, of course, prevention

Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, including the back of the hand, between fingers, and under fingernails. The CDC recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds each time – about the same amount of time it takes to sing or hum “Happy Birthday” twice. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and frequently touched surfaces such as handrails and elevator buttons. Clean and disinfect your home daily, especially high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and light switches.


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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the San Antonio Report.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org