After avoiding the inevitable for more than a week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott finally shut down dining in restaurants and bars across the state of Texas, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
In a March 19 press conference, Abbott declared a public health disaster in the state of Texas, imposing statewide closures of restaurants, bars, schools, gyms, nursing homes, and retirement centers.
The declaration begins at midnight Friday, March 20 and extends to midnight April 3.
Restaurants can still do takeout and delivery, which Abbott stressed was important.
"This allows the use of drive-through, pickup, and delivery options," Abbott said. "In fact, that is highly encouraged during this limited duration."
Abbott also waived regulations prohibiting restaurants to sell alcohol, allowing them to sell beer, wine, and mixed drinks to-go.
The governor had previously left the decision to individual cities, creating a patchwork of confusion and disparity between neighboring towns, and frustration from those who had taken the proactive stance.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins shut down restaurants and bars with a declaration of disaster on March 16. The Dallas City Council then convened a special meeting to extend the date to April 29.
The city of Plano also shut down restaurants and bars through April 27.
Fort Worth and Allen initially tried to do halfway efforts by keeping restaurants open but limiting the number of customers before closing down on-site dining altogether. Frisco just opted not to close restaurants, so this state measure will override that decision.
Abbott said that Texas' traditional model of dealing with natural disasters wasn't sufficient, and that the state needed to "elevate our response to COVID-19."
"Last Friday, there were 39 cases of Texans who tested positive — today that number has grown to more than 140 people who have tested positive," he said. "Last Friday, there were zero death — today there are three deaths. There were 10 counties with coronavirus cases last Friday — there are at least 27 today."
"What we're dealing with now in Texas is not a local or regional disaster, it's far more than a nationwide disaster in that it is an international pandemic," he said. "It is essential that all Americans comply with the standards established by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection."
Abbott said that Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), insisted that Texas need a unified response, with four bullet points:
- Every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10.
- People shall avoid eating or drinking at restaurants or bars, or visiting the gym.
- People shall not visit nursing homes or retirement centers or longterm facilities.
- All schools shall be closed.
He said that grocery stores, hotels, and office workplaces can stay open, and also domestic travel.
Stephanie Allmon Merry contributed to this story.