Gov. Greg Abbott will allow hair salons in Texas to reopen Friday and gyms on May 18, moving more quickly than expected to further restart the Texas economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
The businesses will be required to follow certain rules, however, as the state continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus. For example, hair stylists will only be able to work with one customer at a time, while gyms can only reopen at 25% capacity, and their showers and locker rooms should remain closed for now.
Abbott announced the upcoming reopenings during a news conference Tuesday at the state Capitol in Austin, four days after he let stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls reopen at 25% capacity. He had initially eyed May 18 as the earliest next date to start further reopenings, but in recent days he has faced growing pressure from some in his own party to move quicker.
Even as Abbott rolled out the additional reopenings, he braced Texans for “flare-ups in certain regions” and said the state has assembled “surge response teams” to dispatch to such problem areas.
After discussing barbershops and gyms, Abbott said state officials also want to reopen another type of business — bars — but are still figuring out how to do so safely. He said he wants feedback from bar owners, given that “not all bars are the same,” particularly when it comes to size.
Abbott also announced two other kinds of reopenings for May 18. He said office buildings can open with either five or fewer workers or 25% of the workforce, whichever is greater. Manufacturers that have been deemed “non-essential” can also reopen May 18, as long as they limit their occupancy to 25%.
The Friday reopenings, Abbott said, apply to “cosmetology salons, barbershops, hair salons, nail salons and tanning salons.” In addition to limiting stylists to one customer at a time, Abbott recommended salons use an appointment system only, and if they accept walk-ins, those customers should only wait inside if they can practice social distancing. Stylist stations should also be 6 feet apart, and Abbott said he “strongly” recommends stylists and customers wear masks.
When it comes to gyms, in addition to limiting capacity and keeping locker rooms closed, Abbott said all equipment must be disinfected after each use. Customers should wear gloves that cover their entire hands, including the fingers. Customers should maintain social distancing. And if customers bring their own equipment into the gym, such as a yoga mat, it must be disinfected before and after each use.
Tuesday’s news conference came as the number of coronavirus cases in Texas increased to at least 33,369, including 906 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The virus is present in 216 out of the state’s 254 counties.
The total of tests conducted in Texas stands at 427,210, the DSHS figures show.
While the state’s testing numbers are increasing, “we’re not quite there yet,” Abbott said, expressing hope that forthcoming federal assistance, as well as state efforts like National Guard mobile testing teams, would further ramp up testing. He continued to focus on infection and hospitalization rates, noting they are holding steady or on a downward trend.
After the news conference, Democrats said Abbott was moving too quickly to further open up the economy, especially so soon after the initial reopenings.
“I thought we were waiting to see if the first round of re-opening caused COVID-19 spikes before making decisions on additional openings?” tweeted state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “It’s been four days.”
The Texas Democratic Party said Abbott was forging forward with the “premature opening of more of the state” despite the own acknowledgements that it could lead to an increase in cases. “Republicans like Greg Abbott are not here to protect your family,” the party’s executive director, Manny Garcia, said in a statement.
At the news conference last week where he announced the initial reopenings, Abbott said a second phase could start “as early as May 18” if the state continues to slow the spread of the virus.
“We need to see two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19,” Abbott said at the April 27 news conference.
Yet within hours after that news conference, Abbott was teasing potentially earlier action, and the ensuing days saw mounting intraparty pressure, including from several state lawmakers, to at least let barbershops and salons open immediately. Earlier Tuesday, two Republican state representatives, defied Abbott by getting haircuts at a Houston-area salon.
In media appearances over the past several days, Abbott has warned the state could see a jump in cases as it reopens, both due to the increased testing and the transmission that comes with allowing more people out into the open. Shortly before Abbott’s news conference, Democrats seized on audio of a recent call with lawmakers where he reiterated that sentiment, saying “pretty much every scientific and medical report shows that whenever you have a reopening ... in the aftermath of something like this, it actually will lead to an increase in spread.”
Abbott said the surge response teams will be prepared to address any spikes, including in places like the meatpacking plants in the Panhandle that have seen a high concentration of cases. The teams will be spearheaded by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the state Health and Human Services Commission and the National Guard. The teams will be able to do things like provide more personal protection equipment and testing supplies, as well as work with local officials to put in places additional standards to contain the outbreak.
As he announced the further reopenings, Abbott sought to clarify some of his executive order that went into effect Friday. For example, he said weddings may begin again, but if they take place indoors somewhere beside a church, they must be limited to 25% capacity.
In an act of defiance against Gov. Greg Abbott’s continued shutdown of barbershops and other businesses, two Republican lawmakers sat in a Houston-area salon Tuesday while getting illegal haircuts.
State Reps. Steve Toth, from The Woodlands, and Briscoe Cain, from Deer Park, added fuel to the movement against state and local restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
As long as businesses can reopen safely and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, “there’s absolutely no reason” why they should be kept from getting back up and running, Toth said in an interview with The Texas Tribune while getting his haircut.
“Some of these people are being forced into bankruptcy. These are small businesses where the owners of these franchises have mortgaged their homes, they’ve gone into debt, and if they don’t get some relief, they’re going to go bankrupt,” Toth said.
Toth said restrictions were in place initially to slow the spread of the virus, and “it was never about being able to stop the spread of COVID-19.” At-risk populations, like older people and those who are medically fragile, should be protected and isolated while everyone else goes back to work, Toth said.
Hailey Lankford, a stylist at Tune Up: The Manly Salon in Montgomery County, where Toth and Cain got haircuts, said it’s “essential” for her to go back to work.
“If I do not go back to work, my car will be [repossessed], I will be evicted, I have no choice,” Lankford said. “I’m not getting the money from the government along with a lot of other hairdressers I know.”
The salon reopened over the weekend but was quickly shut down by local law enforcement officers who threatened to arrest Lankford and her colleagues if they didn’t close, Lankford said.
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