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Governor’s order reopens many businesses on limited basis

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 AUSTIN — An executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott to reopen in-store retail shopping, dine-in restaurants, movie theaters, museums, libraries and more took effect May 1 and will continue through May 15.

As Texas, the rest of the United States and the world’s nations seek to balance cries for increased commercial activity — and the jobs that result — while also containing the spread of the deadly influenza-like virus, COVID-19, Abbott’s order allows most venues to operate at up to 25% of their total listed occupancy with certain other conditions applying. 

For example, shopping malls may operate at up to 25% of their total listed occupancy. However, their food-court dining areas, play areas and interactive displays and settings must remain closed.

Abbott’s order, in accordance with guidelines issued by White House and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reminds Texans that schools remain closed to in-person classroom attendance by students through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Meanwhile, teachers and staff are encouraged to continue to work remotely from home if possible but may return to campuses to conduct remote video instruction and perform administrative duties under strict terms required by the Texas Education Agency.  Also, private schools and institutions of higher education are urged to establish similar terms to allow faculty and staff to return to campuses to conduct remote video instruction and perform administrative duties when it is not possible to do so from home.  

Notably, the order does not prohibit people from accessing essential or reopened services or engaging in essential daily activities, such as going to the grocery store or gas station, providing or obtaining other essential or reopened services, visiting parks, hunting or fishing or engaging in physical activity like jogging, bicycling or other outdoor sports, “so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and to minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.”

The complete executive order is available at gov.texas.gov.

Cumulative figures posted by the Texas Department of State Health Services at noon on May 3 showed that some 31,548 people in Texas had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 867 deaths had been confirmed as resulting from the influenza-like virus.

PBS, TEA launch initiative

The Texas Education Agency and PBS television stations on April 21 announced a joint initiative to air educational programming each week in each of Texas' 10 PBS viewing areas during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The programming commenced statewide on April 20 through the "At-Home Learning Initiative" that preempts regularly scheduled weekday programming with grade-level-appropriate programming divided into three age groups: Pre-K through 3rd grade, 5th through 8th grade, and high school. 

“This joint initiative between TEA and PBS stands to benefit all students as they work each day to navigate uncharted waters and continue to do their best to learn and grow as students and individuals,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. 

Revenue total decreases

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on May 1 announced state sales tax revenue totaled $2.58 billion in April, an amount 9.3% less than the amount reported in April 2019, marking the steepest decline since January 2010.

The majority of April sales tax revenue is based on sales made in March and remitted to the state comptroller in April. Next month’s remittances likely will show steeper declines compared to a year ago because of the shuttering of businesses related to COVID-19 and plummeting oil prices throughout April, Hegar added.

Benefits may continue

The Texas Workforce Commission on April 30 issued new guidance to unemployment claimants concerning their eligibility for unemployment benefits should they choose not to return to work due to COVID-19. 

The TWC said Texans can continue to receive unemployment benefits throughout the COVID-19 response if they choose not to return to work for certain reasons, including:

—At High Risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19;

—Household member at high risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19;

—Diagnosed with COVID: Individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered;

—Family member with COVID: Anybody in the household has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed;

—Quarantined: Individual is currently in 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19; and

— Child care: Child’s school or daycare closed and no alternatives are available.

Any other situation will be subject to a case by case review by TWC based on individual circumstances.

SNAP online is approved

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission on April 23 received federal approval to conduct a pilot program that would allow Texans to purchase groceries online using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials said the statewide pilot program is expected to start by May 18.