AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott gave permission Monday to reopen practically every facet of daily life in Texas, including bars and child daycare centers, lifting most full lockdown orders as the state continues one of the nation's swiftest reboots from coronavirus restrictions.
Abbott's sweeping new orders, which he described as a second phase in Texas' reopening, allows zoos and bowling alleys to resume business and lets restaurants and retailers expand the number of customers by the end of the week. They also set up the return of some professional sports, summer camps and summer school by June.
Abbott said social distancing measures must still be in place, such as limits on customers and no fans at sports events. Theme parks, however, remain closed.
The move pushes one of the world's largest economies toward getting back to business as usual, even while the state has seen record numbers of daily new coronavirus cases and deaths. But Abbott has emphasized hospitalization rates that remain flat and infection rates that have dropped, even after Texas began lifting stay-at-home orders on May 1.
“We've seen no evidence, no signs, that raise any concerns about a possibility of retrenchment in Texas," Abbott said.
Abbott did keep broad restrictions in two parts of Texas that are struggling with a surge of new cases, El Paso and Amarillo, for an additional week. He said the delay would give surge teams more time to get the flare-up of new cases under control.
Abbott said he can further push Texas open because the state has boosted daily testing and has seen a drop in the percentage of new cases. That infection rate was as high as 13 percent in mid-April and has dropped under 5 percent in recent days, according to state health officials.
Abbott also said the state has good hospital capacity and personal protective equipment to handle any dramatic increase in cases.
Under Abbott's order, childcare facilities can reopen immediately. Restaurants will be able to open at 50 percent capacity on Friday — an increase from the current 25 percent — and bars, which had remained closed, to open at 25 percent. Bowling alleys will be allowed to open at 25 percent.
By June, youth sports and other camps will be allowed to open, and professional sports, including auto racing, golf, softball and tennis leagues can apply with the state to host events without spectators.
Theme parks are still being evaluated, Abbott said. Schools, which had been closed for the rest of the spring semester, can make plans to reopen for summer school with social distancing guidelines for in-person instruction. Universities can also reopen campus for the summer with similar guidelines. The order did not mention planning for college sports.
Democrats, including the mayors of several of the state’s largest cities, have criticized the plan as moving too fast, too soon.
“The people in the city of Houston we want things to open up. We want the economy to open up. We want people back on their jobs," said Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat. "I probably would choose a different pace than what he has chosen ... My only hope and prayer is that several weeks from now, we are not going to see a spike occur.”
Few states have moved faster to reopen than Texas, where Abbott has warned that the numbers of new cases would rise as the state reopened and that has borne out. A nine-day streak of at least 1,000 new daily cases that ended Sunday saw the one-day infection rate hit a record-high of 1,801 on Saturday. The 110 deaths over last Thursday and Friday was easily the highest two-day fatality rate since the virus was first detected in the state.
The state reported 909 new cases Monday in about 30,000 new tests. Eleven new deaths were the lowest in a single day since March 31 when there were four. Mondays have typically been when the fewest new cases are reported.
State officials said the surge in new infections came after 700 cases were reported in the Amarillo area where Texas has sent a response team to try to contain a growing spread at meat-packing plants.
“When we increase testing in hotspots the number of people testing positive is going to spike,” Abbott said. “We will be prepared to deal with spikes.”