Texas takes first steps to reopen after coronavirus lockdown

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Texas has started to ease restrictions across the state after a month under lockdown orders to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state will ease a number of restrictions, but still focusing on maintaining general social distancing protocols. Abbott also issued an executive order that closes all schools for the remainder of the current academic year.

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The most immediate action will see state parks opened for recreational activity Monday, so long as citizens wear masks and maintain a distance of six feet from each other. Additionally, no groups larger than five people will be allowed to congregate.

Subsequent measures will allow hospitals to resume elective tests and surgeries while stores can start “retail to go” services, starting on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

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Abbott also announced the establishment of a Strike Force to Open Texas – a team of nationally recognized medical experts as well as private and public leaders who will advise the governor on safely and strategically reopening the state.

"We have shown that Texas can continue our efforts to contain COVID-19 while also adopting safe standards that will allow us to begin the process of reopening Texas,” Abbot said in a statement released on Friday.

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“The Strike Force to Open Texas brings together nationally recognized medical experts with public and private sector leaders to achieve this mission. By coming together, we can get Texans back to work, practice safe standards that will prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we can overcome this pandemic."

It is not clear whether or not Abbott's executive order will supercede the actions of local officials, such as those in Austin, which earlier this week extended its stay-at-home order beyond May 1.

Abbott first issued an order telling Texans to stay at home starting April 1, but he never accepted that it was a stay-at-home lockdown in the same manner as those adopted by other states. The order is set to expire on April 30, which puts Texas on track to match the federally suggested timeline.

President Trump announced a program on Thursday to reopen the country with three phases that will ease social distancing restrictions. States need to meet certain criteria for each phase before further easing restrictions.

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"We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time," Trump said, adding that the guidelines were "based on hard verifiable data."