PUBLIC HEALTH DISASTER: Abbott issues orders to limit social gatherings, close schools, restaurants, gyms

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AUSTIN, Texas (KETK) – Governor Greg Abbott issued a declaration of public health disaster Thursday, saying the orders issued under that declaration are intended to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting social gatherings of more than 10 people. The declaration also urges people to avoid restaurants, bars, and gyms. It also prohibits visits to hospitals, nursing homes or long-term care facilities except to provide “critical assistance” to patients.

He also ordered all school districts in Texas to close at least through April 3.

  • Order No. 1: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.
  • Order No. 2: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts, or visiting gyms or massage parlors; provided, however, that the use of a drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options is allowed and highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of this executive order.
  • Order No. 3: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall not visit nursing home or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.
  • Order No. 3: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, schools shall temporarily close

“This does not mean education should stop in Texas,” he said, urging districts and parents to find alternative means of teaching, such as putting courses online.

The order allows for drive-through and delivery of food from restaurants.

The governor announced the order at a press briefing Thursday. It takes effect at 11:59 p.m. on Friday.

The order, he stressed, “is not a shelter in place order,” as other places around the country have seen.

“This does not prohibit people from going to grocery stores or getting gas,” Abbott said. “Domestic travel is not prohibited. Offices and workplaces remain open, though employers should only ask essential personnel to report to work and encourage others to work remotely.”

The order, Abbott said, is an essential tool in fighting the spread of COVID-19. He cited rapidly rising numbers of confirmed cases throughout the state and the death from the illness in Dallas County, confirmed Thursday, of a man in his 60s and with no chronic health conditions.

The man was found dead in his home. His death was the first connected to COVID-19 confirmed in Dallas County and was one of the 20 new cases confirmed in the county that same day.

To emphasize how quickly the disaster has exploded, Abbott said that last Friday, when he issued a disaster declaration for the state, there were 39 cases of COVID-19 reported in 10 counties, and no deaths.

As he issued the public health disaster declaration less than a week later, he said, there are more than 140 cases reported in at least 27 counties, and 3 deaths related to the illness.

“We must strangle the spread of (COVID-19) by reducing the ways we are currently transmitting it,” Abbott said. “The more that people do to reduce their personal contact, the sooner COVID-19 will be contained. We are doing this today so that we can get back to business more quickly.”

Abbott said state officials have been working on a response to the coronavirus since mid-January “when I first talked with Vice President Pence.”

The day after that, he said, he talked with President Trump “when the very first person in the United States who contracted COVID-19 was identified. A couple of days later, on January 24, the Texas Department of State Health Services began leading daily calls with public health authorities, healthcare providers, city and county officials, and school districts across the state of Texas.”

The week after that, on January 31, Abbott said, the Texas Department of State Health Services activated the State Medical Operations Center. That was followed by DSHS opening 10 public health labs to perform COVID-19 testing throughout the state of Texas.

“We’re proud to say that Texas is filled with outstanding leaders at the local level, leaders who have done a remarkable job of safeguarding their communities and responding to the early stages of the coronavirus,” Abbott said. “We are also fortunate to have some of the premiere local health officials in America who are advising their local officials.”

But he said COVID-19 is not a localized crisis.

“This is not a local disaster,” the governor said. “This is not a regional disaster. This is not even a nationwide disaster. This is a global pandemic.”

He said his order applies standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“Texans have always come together in the face of disaster,” Abbott said, urging statewide solidarity and cooperation in fighting the illness that has swept the state, the nation, and the globe. “No one responds to challenges better than Texans.”

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