It’s been five days since the first phase of economic re-openings, but Gov. Greg Abbott is already expanding it to include salons, barber shops, other personal service providers, gyms, and fitness studios.
Barber shops, salons, nail salons, and tanning salons can open on Friday, May 8, while gyms have to wait until May 18, the original date that Abbott had planned to reopen other sectors of the economy. It’s not clear what made him jump the self-imposed deadline, and he didn’t spend time explaining it. Bars, initially thought to be among the second phase of openings, didn’t get a hard opening date.
Abbott praised the availability of hospital beds statewide but admitted that the reopening will expose more people to COVID-19. The news comes on the third day in a row in which Dallas County has set a new record for total diagnoses: 253, up from yesterday’s 237. There are now 4,623 cases of the coronavirus in Dallas with a total of 123 deaths.
“As a society does begin to open up again, it could lead to an increase in infections,” Abbott said, echoing previous statements of his, including some from a leaked phone call with other lawmakers. “If infections get out of control we’ll be able to quickly respond to it.”
In late April, the governor said he would make his decision on further re-openings after analyzing the numbers of new infections. But there has not been enough time to observe that datapoint, considering the dayslong lag in returning test results as well as the longer incubation period of the virus. Instead, he made his decision based on the “abundance of healthcare facility.” He was also happy with the state rates of positive tests. He said a target percentage for positive tests of COVID-19 is no more than 7.2 percent, the rate at which it was in April when he revealed his Open Texas Plan. Abbott said that datapoint is also guiding his economic decisions. Statewide, yesterday’s total dropped to 4.65 percent. Since the pandemic begin, Texas’ positive rate is 8.2 percent.
Urban counties tell a different story, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Dallas County’s rate of positive tests is 13.6 percent. Harris County’s rate is 11.6 percent. Tarrant County has a rate of 14.8 percent. Travis County has a rate of 13.6 percent. And Bexar County’s is 15.2 percent. All of those have tested about a single percentage point of their entire populations. Abbott has not allowed county judges or mayors to enact stricter guidelines beyond his order, something local governments would likely have to sue over.
And so County Judge Clay Jenkins repeated himself, telling people to stay home. Jenkins at a press conference Tuesday night said he would be bringing together a group of Dallas County epidemiologists, doctors, and scientists to create new guidance for business owners and residents alike that dictate what is safe and when. He said this group would base their opinions off of ER visits for COVID-19, hospitalizations for the disease, ICU admissions, infection rates, and deaths from the coronavirus. They’d then bounce their opinions off the business community, which could address their concerns before guidance is issued.
“I know I can take my family to a restaurant, but when would that be a good idea?” Jenkins said.
With the new daily high, the county still hasn’t hit the two-week decline that public health experts recommend before reopening the economy. We’re up to 19,000 daily tests, but that’s well below estimates from public health officials—including some on the governor’s own team—as to what is fully needed to control any outbreaks. (The state had tested about 190,000 people from March 1 through April 20 and has tested another 220,000 since that date, Abbott noted.) Texas also has not yet met its goal of hiring 4,000 contact tracers, a desire the governor announced in April.
“Today, we have a new record high number of cases as we have every day this week. We’ve also had seven more deaths. It’s so important that we all continue to follow science and avoid unnecessary groups, maintain six feet distance and wear your face coverings on public transportation and at businesses,” Jenkins said.
Salons and barber shops can only serve one customer per stylist and the governor urged them to allow appointments only and make clients wait outside. He’s recommending customer and provider wear masks. Gyms will only be allowed to have 25 percent their maximum occupancy. Equipment is to be disinfected after each use and facilities are banned from opening locker rooms or showers. Customers also must wear gloves that cover the whole hand.
Memorials, funerals, burials, and weddings are now treated like church services: alternating rows, two empty seats between households, 25 percent maximum occupancy, and tables of no more than six people. Abbott did include an important caveat.
“Nobody is required to open up,” he said.
Dr. Philip Huang, the head of Dallas County Health and Human Services, zoomed in, focusing on the new effort to provide local guidance.
“Just because you can do it doesn’t mean that you should,” Huang said. “In terms of people’s decision-making and what they want to do, that’s what our group is looking at. What are the recommendations based on the data we’re seeing locally?”
So stay tuned.