AUSTIN, Texas (KLTV/KTRE) - Governor Greg Abbott has announced that the campuses for public and private schools and institutes of higher learning will remain closed until the end of the 2019-202 school year during his press conference Friday. However, distance learning will continue for the rest of the school year for Texas students.
Abbott said he discussed the education situation with healthcare professionals, and they advised him they didn’t think it would be safe to allow students to return to school campuses before the end of the 2019-2020 year.
“School classrooms are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.," Abbott said. "That includes all public, private, and higher education institutions.”
Abbott said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will be working with Texas’ public school districts on how they can address graduation at the end of the school year. Harrison Keller, the Texas Commissioner for Higher Education, will be working with the state’s universities on similar issues along with how they will be able to approach the summer semesters, the governor said.
Teachers will be allowed to work on their respective campuses for video instruction or to perform administrative duties if they maintain social distancing, Abbott said. He added that teachers will also be able to go to their respective campuses to clean out their classrooms.
“With Governor Greg Abbott’s issuance of a new executive order today closing schools statewide for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year, Texas continues to prioritize the health and safety of our state’s millions of public school and private school students, teachers, staff, and administrators," a statement from the TEA said. “While a difficult decision to make, it is the right one for our families and communities - and the only one that makes sense for Texas at this time. TEA fully supports the governor’s actions and continues to work closely with districts across the state to ensure students are getting what they need: meals, dedicated efforts to keep kids feeling safe and connected during these times, and support so students can continue to learn and grow academically.”
The TEA statement said the agency and its members remain committed to the health and safety of Texas’ students, families, and communities.
“Together, we will get through this,” the TEA statement said. “And, when the time is right, we will be able to return to our daily routines on school campuses across Texas.”
Abbott also announced an executive order to allow retailers to operate “on the go" effective April 24 and establish a “strike force to open Texas.” The strike force will consist of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, Mark McClellan, a former FDA and Medicare/Medicaid commissioner, Dr. Parker Hudson, and Dr. John Zirwas, the UT System executive vice chancellor of health affairs, entrepreneurs, small business owners, economic experts, individuals from the energy sector, and representatives of non-profit organizations.
The task force will be chaired by Austin banker James Huffines, Abbott said.
On April 24, some non-essential businesses will be allowed to re-open on the condition that they allow customers to come to pick up merchandise, or limit the number of customers in their stores and practice CDC -recommended sanitizing methods. Businesses will also be allowed to deliver to customers’ homes, Abbott said.
“We believe that all stores in Texas should be able to operate retail to go, next Friday, one week from today," Abbott said.
The governor said the members of his task force will work closely with health care professionals to make sure Texas starts the return to normal as safely as possible. Abbott added they will base their decisions on data about the continued spread of the COVID-19 virus in the state of Texas. Even so, the process is going to occur in stages, Abbott said.
During the question and answer portion of the press conference, Abbott said he understands that some employees may be worried about going back to work.
“Employees should not feel coerced to return to work,” Abbott said.
On a related note, Abbott said more than a million unemployment claims for Texas have been processed at this point. He added that the Texas Workforce Commission’s employees are working seven days a week to process the ever-increasing number of claims. He added with the additional funding that has been approved by the U.S. Congress, Texas is in no danger of running out of funding for unemployment benefits.
On a related note, Abbott said that he will be issuing another executive order that will ease the restrictions on healthcare providers, so doctors and nurses who aren’t part of the COVID-19 effort can get back to work. He said the current restrictions on elective surgeries will be loosened on the condition that Texas maintains enough available hospital beds and ventilators to deal with any spike in COVID-19 cases that might occur. That measure will go into effect on April 22.
The governor also said the state’s COVID-19 testing capacity is increasing on a daily basis. He added Texas has seen growth in the reliable supply of “swab collection kits.”
Abbott said another executive order places more restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes. Stricter testing and safety standard will be implemented at the state level. However, no groups larger than five people will be allowed, he said.
“We are enhancing standards to protect our vulnerable seniors who live in nursing homes and assisted senior living centers," Abbott said. "To protect against COVID-19 from getting into those centers, we are requiring infection control policies and minimizing movement of staff between those facilities.”
On Monday, another executive order from Abbott will go into effect. It will allow for Texas’ state parks to reopen. However, groups of five people or larger will not be allowed, Abbott said.
“State parks will reopen this coming Monday," Abbott said. "In order to reduce possible transmission of COVID-19 in state parks, visitors must wear masks and maintain at least six feet from people who are not members of the same household.”
During his press conference, Abbott said that his current stay-at-home order is set to expire on April 30. He added that if the data lines up, and it continues to look as though the COVID spread has slowed, he will consider lifting the order on April 27 and going back to the previous status, where Texans were simply encouraged to stay home as much as possible.
Abbott said on April 27, he will likely announce what kinds of businesses will be allowed to open. More businesses may be allowed to open by early May, depending on the spread of the coronavirus, he added.
The governor cautioned Texans to continue taking precautions like social distancing, sanitizing, and implementing good hygiene practices even when the process to re-start the state’s economy begins.