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Gov. Abbott Closes Schools, Bars And Restaurants, Limits Gatherings Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to media at a press conference regarding COVID on Feb. 27.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to media at a press conference regarding COVID on Feb. 27.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that temporarily closes schools, bars and gyms – and limits restaurant service to takeout and delivery orders only amid COVID-19 concerns. The order, which goes into effect at 11:59 Friday night and lasts until April 3, also limits gatherings to 10 people.

The order bans people from visiting nursing homes and longterm care facilities unless they are providing care, and it could be expanded at a later date, the governor said.

Abbott said the order is meant to comply with guidelines for social distancing set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and stressed that, though the order limits gatherings of people, the state is not ordering people to stay home.

"This executive order is not a shelter-in-place order," Abbott said. "It does not prohibit people from doing things like going to the grocery store or gas stations or parks or banks. All critical infrastructure will be open and operational."

The governor also urged employers to require only essential staff come in to work and to encourage employees to work from home, if possible.

The order comes as cities across the state have closed bars, limited gatherings and emphasized the need for people to work from home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio have all ordered bar closures and required take-out service only in the last week, and schools districts across the state have closed, as well.

In Austin, Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt ordered closures on Tuesday and prohibited gatherings with more than 10 people.

COVID-19 has killed three people in Texas and infected more than 140 as of Thursday, and the governor said Texans should expect that number to rise, as the state is expanding its capacity to test people for the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

"The public should expect a spike to occur, a rise to occur, in the number of people who test positive," Abbott said. "It'll take a little while – it could be a week, or so – to see the thrust of that occur. Then our collective goal as a state is to make sure that that spike levels off. Once that spike levels off, we will then know that we have the challenge contained."

The state estimates it will soon be able to test at least 15,000 people per week, the governor said. Texas has bolstered the number of test sites since the governor's disaster declaration last Friday. More test kits have been sent to public health authorities, private labs and hospitals in that time, and drive-through test sites opened earlier this week across the state. 

Prior to today's announcement, Abbott faced questions about whether to order closures of bars and restaurants. Before Thursday, he deferred to local officials, arguing his declaration empowers them to order such limitations.

This story has been updated.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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