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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott detailed plans on Monday to reopen the state for business amid the coronavirus pandemic – allowing places like retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters to open up to customers at a limited capacity by Friday May 1.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said wearing masks will be encouraged, but will not be required.
The move by Abbot puts Texas – the country’s second-largest economy behind California – at the forefront of the movement to reopen state economies that have been basically brought to a standstill as the U.S. grapples with the outbreak of COVID-19.
“We’re not just going to pen up and hope for the best,” Abbott said during a news conference on Monday in Austin. “We’re going to open in way that will also contain the virus and keep us safe.”
He added: "A more strategic approach is required so that we don’t open only to close down again.”
Along with retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters, Abbott said that museums and libraries can also reopen on Friday at a 25 percent capacity. Sole proprietors of businesses can also open and doctors and dentists can resume normal operations as well.
Abbott added that hospitals will still have to keep 50 percent of their capacity for patients suffering from COVID-19.
Churches and places of worship, which were allowed to remain open during the state’s stay-at-home orders, are also allowed to expand their capacity provided safe social distancing measures are still enacted.
Barber shops, hair salons and bars will still remain closed.
The governor’s plan, which he said has the backing of both state and federal health officials, is part of larger strategy in Texas to gradually reopen businesses. Abbott noted that by May 18, if there are no new spikes of contagion in Texas than he will move on to phases two of the plan, which almost businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity.
“We will open in a way that employs safe standards,” he said, noting that places like China and Singapore have seen a second wave of infections after reopening too early. “There is a reason why all businesses in Texas can’t reopen all at once.”
Texas, which has so far seen 25,297 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus with 663 deaths, is one of a number states that have opened up or have plans to soon open their economies.
Mississippi lifted its stay-at-home orders and is allowing businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity. Montana is permitting retail businesses to become operational if they can adhere to requirements to limit capacity and maintain strict physical distancing and in Tennessee, restaurants are able to reopen at 50 percent occupancy. Alaska has also reopened some businesses with a limited capacity.
Arkansas, Indiana and Iowa are allowing elective surgeries to take place, while Kentucky is permitting non-urgent/emergent health care services, diagnostic radiology and lab services to take place in limited settings and Indiana. Ohio is letting medical procedures that do not require an overnight stay to resume starting May 1.
Also, Colorado is letting retail stores to open for curbside deliveries.
Minnesota is now letting industrial, manufacturing and office-based businesses that are not "customer-facing" to return to work.
In Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp took heat for his order to reopen businesses, theaters, private social clubs and restaurants, which are all back operating.
Abbott’s announcement comes as the Trump administration is drawing up new guidelines for how restaurants, schools, churches and businesses can safely reopen nationwide. A draft of the White House’s plan includes suggestions such as closing break rooms at offices, using disposable menus in restaurants and having students eat lunch in their classrooms.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.