Texas declares public health disaster, closes restaurant dining rooms and schools

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued a public health disaster for the state of Texas. Abbott explained during a press conference that the executive orders will bring the entire state of Texas in line with CDC guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"This Executive Order is not a Shelter in Place Order it does not prohibit people from doing things like going to the grocery store, parks or banks, all critical infrastructure will remain open, and operational, domestic travel will be unrestricted,” said Governor Abbott.

The orders take effect at midnight Friday, March 20 and will go through midnight on Friday, April 3.

"This executive order adopts for Texas, the Standards set out by the President and the CDC,” said Governor Abbott.

The public health disaster orders schools to be closed statewide until at least April 3. The disaster also orders a ban on dine-in eating and gathering in groups of more than 10 as the state ramps up efforts to battle the coronavirus. Abbott's order also will shut down gyms and bars.

Until today's announcement, Abbott had left most of those decisions to local governments.

Abbott said the statewide orders are to make sure Texas is following guidance provided by the federal government. The governor said it is not an order for Texans to shelter in place and does not restrict domestic travel. 

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Dining areas at restaurants and bars in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and in Austin had already been closed but the governor extended that order to every restaurant and bar in the Lone Star State. While the dining rooms are shut, restaurants are allowed to offer to-go and delivery.

On 6th Street, some bars and restaurants have boarded up; mostly as a security measure. Other businesses are posting on social media they'll serve up drinks and food to go.

Critical operations like grocery stores and pharmacies are allowed to remain open.

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Gov. Abbott also waived regulations to allow restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and mixed drinks, with food purchases to customers.

The new measures, according to Dr. Hellerstedt, will not stop the outbreak. But they are designed to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed as more people get sick. What he couldn't predict is when the risk of exposure will start to ease.

"I think the best answer to that is the way to have the best possible outcome is for all of us to do the things we've been talking about all along,” said Dr. Hellerstedt.

If hospital and triage tents cannot handle all the sick people, the state is preparing to set up other sites. Hotels are part of that strategy.

"We've had a lot of people reach out already, we're collecting those lists but we are also want to make sure they are the right place to do that. because we want to in respect them and make sure they are ready in the time of need, don’t want to make them too soon, and don’t want to make them too late,” said the head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Chief Nim Kidd.

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen Tuesday afternoon said he expects school districts to pay all support staff members like cafeteria workers and bus drivers. There is money to do that, according to Speaker Bonnen, because the State Legislature reformed the funding process and has provided local school districts with the money to make payroll.

This is the first public health disaster declared in Texas since 1901.


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The Associated Press contributed to this report.