Alerts and Updates

Texas Reopens with a Multiphased Approach

June 2, 2020

Updated guidance and information is being issued almost daily.

On April 17, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued three executive orders outlining the beginning of the state’s reopening along with health and safety guidance. Within these orders, Governor Abbott also established the Strike Force to Open Texas to provide advice and recommendations for reopening the Texas economy. The Strike Force is comprised of nationally recognized medical experts and private and public leaders.

At the same time, Governor Abbott outlined his multiphase approach for reopening Texas. Importantly, Governor Abbott made clear that his executive orders supersede local ordinances. Phase 1 began on May 1 and consists of reopening the following:

  • Restaurants and retailers at 25 percent capacity;
  • Libraries and museums at 25 percent capacity;
  • Malls and movie theaters; and
  • Wedding venues.

While places of worship were never ordered to close, under Phase 1 these organizations were allowed to increase the number of people in attendance. Phase 1 also still requested people practice social distancing and recommended that individuals wear masks but made clear that these were not requirements.

Prior to May 1, Governor Abbott also loosened restrictions on other businesses. Effective April 20, Texas state parks were ordered to reopen. Beginning April 24, the governor’s second executive order (GA-16) allowed retail businesses to establish a “Retail-To-Go” model that allowed retail outlets in Texas to deliver items to customers’ cars, homes or other locations to minimize contact.

The governor’s third executive order (GA-15) relates to hospital capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) and loosens restrictions on surgeries previously enacted. Beginning at 11:59 p.m. on April 21 through 11:59 p.m. on May 8, additional exceptions to the prior orders included:

  • Any procedure that, if performed in accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice, would not deplete the hospital capacity or the PPE needed to cope with COVID-19, or
  • Any surgery or procedure performed in a licensed healthcare facility that has certified in writing to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission both (1) that it will reserve at least 25 percent of its hospital capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients, accounting for the range of clinical severity of COVID-19 patients, and (2) that it will not request any PPE from any public source—whether federal, state or local—for the duration of the COVID-19 disaster. 

On May 8, hair salons, nail salons, barber shops and related business were permitted to open.

On May 18, Texas entered Phase 2 of Governor Abbott’s plan to reopen the state. Child care facilities, massage parlors and youth clubs like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were permitted to open immediately. On May 22, several other businesses were able to open at 25 percent capacity. These businesses included bars, bowling alleys, bingo halls and aquariums. On May 29, zoos were permitted to open at 25 percent capacity. Also a part of Phase 2 was allowing restaurants to increase to 50 percent capacity.

On May 26, government offices, including the Texas Department of Public Safety, began reopening limited facilities. On the same day, Governor Abbott announced additional services and activities that can reopen beginning May 29. Specifically, he authorized water parks, recreational sport programs for adults, driver education programs and food-court dining areas within malls, all of which included specific limitations.

As of May 31, youth and professional sports can resume with limitations. Youth sports are limited to one parent per child and all are required to follow social distancing rules with practice permitted to start May 31 and games June 15. Professional sports are temporarily prohibited from having fans in attendance.

On an almost weekly basis, Governor Abbott announces additional openings and expansions. Governor Abbott indicated a likely increase in the capacity limitations every couple of weeks, assuming hospital capacity does not become an issue. Governor Abbott has made clear that the metric for reopening is based on hospital capacity and not whether there is an overall increase in individuals testing positive for COVID-19.

For reopening businesses, there are several minimum recommended health protocols established by the executive orders. See Executive Order GA-23 updated on May 26, 2020, and originally issued on May 18, 2020), GA-21 and GA-18. Below are effective dates and links to the health protocols for Texas businesses.

Effective May 1, 2020

Effective May 5, 2020

Effective May 8, 2020

Effective May 18, 2020

Effective May 22, 2020

Effective May 26, 2020

Effective May 29, 2020

Effective May 31, 2020

Updated guidance and information is being issued almost daily. As a result, companies should frequently and carefully review the guidance to ensure compliance with the governor’s orders as well as ensuring they are providing a safe working environment.

About Duane Morris

Duane Morris has created a COVID-19 Strategy Team to help organizations plan, respond to and address this fast-moving situation. Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information. Prior Alerts on the topic are available on the team’s webpage.

For More Information

If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Sharon L. Caffrey, Eve I. Klein, Meredith Gregston, any member of the COVID-19 Strategy Team or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.