Full Steam Ahead: Texas Moves Forward with Accelerated Reopening of the State’s Economy
Houston — May 6, 2020 Yesterday, Governor Abbott held a press conference providing updates on the state’s response to COVID-19. As retail stores and restaurants reopen across the state, local government leaders have questioned, and in some instances outright rejected, ambiguous aspects of the Governor’s plan to reopen the Texas economy. In light of the general confusion surrounding what businesses may open, as well as protests by business owners as to the injustice of the phased reopening, Governor Abbott’s press conference both clarified, and significantly modified, the Executive Orders issued last week.
Funerals, Memorials, Burials, and Weddings
In addition to church services, Texans may continue to hold funerals, memorials, burials, and weddings. These services must abide by those same guidelines previously issued for church services, including limiting seating arrangements through skipping rows, maintaining six-foot distances from other attendees, designating separate seating areas for at-risk populations to distance themselves, and encouraging those same at-risk populations to participate in or watch these events remotely. Weddings, including wedding receptions, should follow the same practices as those required of restaurants (i.e. only allowing 25% venue occupancy, seating no more than six people at each table, and maintaining all standard social distancing practices).
Beaches, Lakes, Rivers, and Swimming Pools
As Texans flock to local beaches, lakes, and rivers to enjoy the beautiful Spring weather, Governor Abbott reiterated that although the wearing of masks will not be mandated or required, use of such masks will inevitably help slow the spread of COVID-19 and is therefore encouraged. Last week, the Governor focused these comments specifically on parks, however, yesterday’s press conference extended this same guidance to beaches, lakes, and rivers across the state. Those individuals wishing to enjoy the great outdoors should maintain at least six-foot separation from others, and groups venturing out may not exceed the greater of: (i) the number of members in the household, or (ii) five individuals. Beginning May 8th, swimming pools may reopen subject to certain limitations, including their occupancy and operating levels.
Restaurants are still required to abide by the mandated occupancy restrictions, however the 25% occupancy cap does not apply to outdoor seating, which must simply comply with standard social distancing requirements.
Hair Salons, Barber Shops, Tanning Salons, and Nail Salons
The Governor reversed course on his initial decision last week to keep hair salons, barbershops, tanning salons, and nail salons closed until May 18th. Effective this Friday, May 8th, cosmetology salons, barber shops, nail salons, hair salons, and tanning salons may reopen. Owners of such establishments are encouraged to review those guidelines published last week to determine the best practices for safely reopening. Salons are recommended to operate by appointment only, and customers waiting for services should do so while maintaining six-foot distances, or wait outside or in their car. Additionally, stylists shall be limited to assisting one customer at a time. As previously noted, the state will not mandate the use of masks, however the Governor reiterated the benefits of both stylists and customers wearing masks while in such close proximity.
Gym and Exercise Facilities
Despite the change of heart in reopening hair, nail, and tanning salons, gym and exercise facilities shall remain closed until May 18th. At that time, such facilities may resume operations, however occupancy shall be capped at 25% capacity, and all showers and locker rooms must remain closed. All equipment must be disinfected after each use, and any outside equipment brought by customers must be sanitized before and after use at the facility.
Additionally, customers shall maintain a six-foot distance from all other customers, and must wear gloves covering the hands and fingers while exercising.
Bars also remain closed until May 18th, as the Governor and his team work closely with bar owners across the state to brainstorm strategies for reopening, while taking into account the hurdles faced by establishments that, by their nature, encourage people to congregate in close proximities.
Non-essential manufacturing facilities will be allowed to resume operations on May 18th. The delayed reopening is intended to provide manufacturers time to restart their supply chains, which typically require the services of ancillary businesses. Manufacturing facilities will need to create work schedules that limit worker occupancy to 25%, as well as maintain appropriate distancing between employees. To the extent employees are unable to maintain a six-foot distance from others, employers will need to install Plexiglas between work spaces.
Businesses located in office buildings may reopen May 18th, provided employers limit their workforce to the greater of: (i) five or less employees, or (ii) 25% of the company’s workforce. As in all cases, employees must adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Surge Response Teams
As Texas moves forward with the phased reopening of businesses, the state recognizes the potential for flare ups of COVID-19 infections. In order to safely continue reopening the Texas economy, Governor Abbott has created Surge Response Teams, led by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and the Texas Army National Guard. Through closely monitoring testing data across the state, these teams will focus on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in locations that experience flare ups, whether they be limited to specific businesses (i.e. meat packing facilities, nursing homes, and prisons), or larger geographic areas, such as cities or counties. Such mitigation strategies will include the provision of additional personal protective equipment, testing supplies, and the expansion of local healthcare capabilities.
The Texas Education Agency also issued guidance as to 2020 graduation ceremonies for Texas school districts. Schools will have four options for celebrating graduating seniors, with each district having the authority to determine which best fits the needs of the community. Graduation ceremonies may be celebrated completely virtually, in small group ceremonies with video streaming, through vehicle ceremonies, and outdoor ceremonies (for certain approved counties).
As new information develops, and Texas’ testing capabilities increase, the Governor will likely continue to modify his phased plan for reopening Texas businesses. In the meantime, look for hair, nail and tanning salons across the state to resume operations beginning this Friday, May 8th.
For additional questions about these programs, please contact Katie Gourley.
Celebrating 30 Years in 2020
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