'Now is the time to redouble our efforts': Abbott issues executive order for state on COVID-19 extending school closures, clarifying essential services

Gov. Greg Abbott updated Texans and issued an executive order regarding the state's response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis during a March 31 afternoon press conference. (Screenshot via livestream)
Gov. Greg Abbott updated Texans and issued an executive order regarding the state's response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis during a March 31 afternoon press conference. (Screenshot via livestream)

Gov. Greg Abbott updated Texans and issued an executive order regarding the state's response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis during a March 31 afternoon press conference. (Screenshot via livestream)

Gov. Greg Abbott updated Texans and issued an executive order regarding the state's response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis during a March 31 afternoon press conference.

Abbott was joined by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick; Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen; John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services; Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management; and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath.

To begin, Abbott provided data showing there have been 3,266 positive cases of COVID-19 in Texas.

"Now is the time to redouble our efforts ... to make sure we rid ourselves of the coronavirus," Abbott said, reinforcing the need to adhere to guidelines from President Donald Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Abbott issued an executive order that he said will maximize the number of lives that can be saved.

Texans are expected to limit the number of actions that could expose them to COVID-19 while still allowing for essential actions such as grocery shopping, Abbott said.

The essential services guidelines and essential activities are connected, and they include any activity to access essential services. Those include getting gas, going to a hardware store and grocery shopping.

Religious activity conducted in person should be consistent with the CDC guidelines. All critical infrastructure will still remain open.

This order will remain in place through April 30, and it recommends schools remain closed until May 4.

"At a time when lives are literally at risk, Texans continue to rise to the occasion," Abbott said. "But, as the president has made clear, we are not yet done with our response."

Patrick said the death rate per capita in Texas, with its population of 29 million, is one of the lowest in the country, but that needs to be maintained.

Bonnen also strongly urged all nonessential workers to stay home, and Hellerstedt reasserted this policy will serve to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"I believe that over time we are going to be able to measure that we have had an impact on the rate of spread of COVID-[19] in the state," Hellerstedt said.

Regarding education and school policy, Morath said Texas officials are doing everything in their power to support parents.

"We care about your health. We want you to stay healthy," Abbott said and added any law enforcement officer in Texas is authorized by his executive order to enforce the requirements of the state's shelter-in-place mandate.

Asked about crucial health supply shortages, Kidd said health care workers are encouraged to use one mask per person per shift so there is no waste at this critical time.

Abbott confirmed local jurisdictions in Texas retain the right to establish policies they consider more strict than state orders.

With regard to unemployment claims, Abbott said the state is adding hundreds of employees to help get funds to those who need them.

"The good news is the money is there," Abbott said and complimented the federal government on its speed in appropriating funds for those hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

A list of allowed essential services in Texas can be found at www.tdem.texas.gov/essentialservices.
By Brian Rash
Brian has been a reporter and editor since 2012. He wrote about the music scene in Dallas-Fort Worth before becoming managing editor for the Graham Leader in Graham, Texas, in 2013. He relocated to Austin, Texas, in 2015 to work for Gatehouse Media's large design hub. He became the editor for the Lake Travis-Westlake publication of Community Impact in August 2018.


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