May 18, 2020 | Austin, Texas | Press Release

Governor Greg Abbott today announced the second phase of the State of Texas’ ongoing plan to safely and strategically open Texas while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Under Phase II, restaurants may increase their occupancy to 50% and additional services and activities that remained closed under Phase I may open with restricted occupancy levels and minimum standard health protocols laid out by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).Additionally, the Governor announced that public schools in Texas have the option to provide in-person summer school so long as they follow social distancing practices and health protocols laid out by DSHS. These classes may begin as soon as June 1st.”Today, tomorrow, and every day going forward is one step closer to medical discoveries that can treat and protect people from COVID-19—but until that day comes, our focus is keeping Texans safe while restoring their ability to get back to work, open their businesses, pay their bills, and put food on their tables,” said Governor Abbott. “By continuing to use safe practices, we are slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting our most vulnerable. Now more than ever, we need to work together as one Texas. I ask all Texans to continue heeding the guidance of our state and federal medical experts and do their part to protect public health. If we all unite in our resolve, we will overcome this challenge.”Via Executive Order, the following services and activities may open under Phase II.

  • Child Care Centers (May 18)
  • Massage and Personal-Care Centers (May 18)
  • Youth Clubs (May 18)
  • Rodeo and Equestrian Events (May 22)
  • Bowling Alleys, Bingo Halls, Simulcast Racing, and Skating Rinks (May 22)
  • Bars (May 22)
  • Aquariums and Natural Caverns (May 22)
  • Zoos (May 29)
  • Day Youth Camps (May 31)
  • Overnight Youth Camps (May 31)
  • Youth Sports (May 31)
  • Certain professional sports without in-person spectators (May 31)

All sporting and camp activities are required to adhere by special safety standards, and minimum standard health protocols have been established for all newly-announced opened services and activities. Businesses located in office buildings may also open but must limit their occupancy to the greater of 10 employees or 25% of their workforce.

Additionally, restaurants may expand their occupancy to 50% beginning May 22. Bars—including wine tasting rooms, craft breweries, and similar businesses—may open at 25% occupancy but like restaurants, these occupancy limits do not apply to outdoor areas that maintain safe distancing among parties.

Opened services and activities under Phase II are subject to certain occupancy limits and health and safety protocols. For details and a full list of guidelines, openings, and relevant dates, visit

Certain counties experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases will have their beginning date of Phase II delayed until May 29. These counties include El Paso, Randall, Potter, Moore, and Deaf Smith. Surge Response Teams are actively working in these areas to increase testing, maintain hospital capacity, and ensure that COVID-19 is contained and mitigated.

During his remarks, the Governor also presented information on the state’s hospitalization and positivity rates—two metrics the Governor and his team of medical experts have used to inform the state’s ongoing plan to safely and strategically open. Details on these metrics can be found in presentation slides, Hospitalizations Chart and Positivity Rate Chart.

For Immediate Distribution  |  May 18, 2020  |  (512) 463-1826

POOL REPORT 1: The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Bob Garrett, The Dallas Morning News:

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday announced that Texas day care centers can reopen immediately, while on Friday, bars and bowling alleys will be able to partially reopen and restaurants can begin allowing more customers inside.

Bars can open up at 25% capacity. In addition, bingo parlors, bowling alleys, skating rinks, rodeos, aquariums and natural caverns can also open on Friday. Zoos may follow on May 29 but theme parks such as Six Flags will require further study, he said.

For restaurants, effective Friday, “the occupancy limitation increases to 50% of the total listed occupancy inside the restaurant,” according to an updated checklist on the state website Though the website crashed during Abbott’s news briefing, it has detailed lists of various categories of businesses.

Also, by May 31, Abbott said youth sports and overnight camps can resume, along with professional sports (without fans).

And by June, in-person summer school can resume, so long as school districts follow social distancing practices and the state’s health protocols.

Abbott calls this round of reopening decisions “Phase II.”

He says they are “based on the advice of the best medical doctors, as well as a team of outstanding business leaders.” He said he’s carefully watching hospitalization rates and the percentage of people who are tested and found to be positive. He sat beside a poster showing these metrics, which can be found in here and here.

Certain counties around Amarillo and El Paso County are experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases, Abbott noted.

They will have their beginning date of Phase II delayed until May 29, he said. Affected counties include El Paso, Randall, Potter, Moore, and Deaf Smith

“Today, tomorrow, every day going forward is one day closer to medical discoveries that will help treat and protect people from getting COVID-19,” he said. “Until that day comes, our focus is to keep you safe — while also restoring your ability to get back to work!” As he finished that sentence, his voice rose almost to a shout.

Here is what Abbott said in response to questions:

  • Asked about theme parks such as Schlitterbahn, Six Flags and Sea World, Abbott said he’s tracking decisions by Disney and assessing strategies that would allow such tourist attractions to reopen.

“However, there are unique challenges in making sure that they can open in ways that contain COVID-19,” he said. “Just know that some of the best professionals in America and the world are working on those strategies as we speak.”

  • Abbott was asked if the Department of State Health Services has lumped together results of COVID-19 diagnostic tests with those from antibody tests, and if so, whether that would impair Texans’ confidence in the state’s data on prevalence of the virus. “The answer is no,” he replied. “They’re not commingling those numbers. Those numbers will be provided separately.”


POOL REPORT 2: The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Bob Garrett, The Dallas Morning News:

Questions, cont.:

  • Asked what would be the precise trigger for a retrenchment of the reopening, Abbott stressed that Monday’s announcement included no rollbacks of previous openings. There was merely a “pause” for four counties around Amarillo (Randall, Potter, Moore and Deaf Smith) and El Paso County, he said. They cannot go into Phase II – with, for instance, the restaurants allowed to go to 50% capacity – until May 29.

Abbott said numbers of cases – “a meaningful outbreak” – and concerns about hospital capacity in a particular area are what will cause him to hit the brakes.

But he noted that he can restore more hospital beds by again shutting down elective procedures in an area, or using some of the plans for “surge capacities” in various regions laid out by his hospital czar John Zerwas about a month ago.

Outbreaks in Shelby and Panola counties on the Texas-Louisiana border and in Washington County have been contained, he said.

“We’ve seen no evidence, no signs that raise any concerns about the possibility of retrenchment in Texas,” he said.

  • Asked if delays in reporting deaths and test results may be telling Texans what happened one or two weeks ago but clouding the current situation, Abbott said it may take “a period of days” for a cause of death to be determined “but it is added to the system.” Similarly, as for testing, the private labs are sometimes one or two days late in reporting their results to the Department of State Health Services, he said.

“That’s exactly why we like to look at figures on a seven day rolling basis,” he said.

Department commissioner John Hellerstedt said state public health officials scan all the data from city and county health departments on COVID-19-related deaths.

“We do not want there to be any delay,” he said. Sometimes, deaths initially counted as attributable to the coronavirus pandemic are later deemed to be “not primarily attributed to COVID-10. So there are some things that can be corrected.”

On tests, Hellerstedt said that for other diseases, doctors and labs are only required to report positive results. But “in the case of COVID-19, obviously we want both,” the positives and the negatives, he said. In some cases, the agency has made corrections once it learned about negative results not reported, he said.

  • Hellerstedt was asked if the department website’s data are all now corrected, to include negative test results, or whether Texans should just trust them to be complete after a certain date.

“We believe they’re now corrected on a going-forward basis,” he said.

POOL REPORT 3: The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Bob Garrett, The Dallas Morning News:

Questions, cont.:

  • Asked if every Texan who is positive for COVID-19 is being traced and if not, when he expects the state and its various local and university partners to be able to do that, Abbott deferred to Hellerstedt.

“We are ramping that up as fast as we can but it’s a fact that we are not able at this point to do tracing on every single positive case,” Hellerstedt replied.

“We eventually believe we will need a workforce of somewhere around 4,000 [tracers] in order to do that,” he said. “And then in addition to that, we have essentially a web-based application that’s going to cover the entire state and enable coordination of the case tracing across the entire state. And that’s still being developed. It’s being developed at a very fast rate.”

  • Abbott, asked if the state is making efforts to help Texans who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, noted that the Dallas Federal Reserve has said Texas has the lowest unemployment rate “of any of the largest states” in the country. But “unemployment numbers are too high and unacceptable,” he said.

“What we intend to do to lower the unemployment rate … is to continue this process of opening up Texas,” Abbott said. He urged all Texans to help businesses be able to reopen by following social distancing and hand sanitation practices.

  • Congress has provided certain benefits during the coronavirus emergency, such as Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer to replace school meals and money for health care providers to provide free testing, that noncitizens can obtain. Even though Congress specified there should be no “public charge” consequences or exposure to immigration enforcement, according to news reports, some undocumented immigrant parents are too fearful of deportation to apply. Abbott was asked if the state should do more to educate Texas residents, such as through public service announcements, that the benefits exist.

Abbott did not directly answer about PSAs but said he’s on TV news programs regularly, “talking about all of these strategies that make available to anybody in the state of Texas whatever resources are available.”

He added, “We will continue to make sure everybody in the state of Texas is aware of all of these different programs that make benefits available.”

  • Asked about people in parks or bike lanes who are not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing, and whether he’d tell them to balance freedom with being respectful of others, Abbott warned the question contains assumptions.

“You need to make sure you’re not jumping to conclusions,” he said. “Some of the people who may not be distancing, that could be family members. And family members don’t need to distance themselves from others because they congregate within a family all the time anyway.”

Abbott, saying he was speaking for officials who were at the briefing, such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Strike Force to Open Texas Chairman James Huffines, called safe distancing a must.

“Every day, I and everybody else with me, we strongly urge all Texans to continue safe distancing practices, to wear face masks if at all possible, to sanitize your hands. Do everything you possibly can to continue to slow the spread. If you do that, there will be more opportunities to open up the state even more.”

Questions? Bob Garrett: (512-413 -7793);


 If you have any questions regarding this announcement, please contact the Governor’s Press Office at (512) 463-1826.

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