Texas to lift some virus-linked restrictions, restart business in phases: governor

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Texas will allow its coronavirus stay-at-home order to expire and begin re-opening…

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Texas will allow its coronavirus stay-at-home order to expire and begin re-opening businesses including restaurants and retail stores in phases beginning on Friday, state Governor Greg Abbott said.

The first business reopenings will require safe practices including limiting the number of people allowed into stores, movie theaters and malls to 25% of their licensed capacity, Abbott said on Monday. A second phase of openings could begin two weeks later.

“We want to reopen as quickly and as safely as we can,” said Abbott, citing the use of capacity limits that match those now in use at grocery and home improvement stores in the state.

The second phase of the openings will depend on the status of the outbreak in Texas over coming days. If infection rates continue to decline, the state could allow up to 50% capacity limits on May 18.

The state’s number of new infections has declined for 17 days and hospitalization rates have been stable. The restart reflects residents’ commitment to safe distancing, data on inflection rates and the importance of entrepreneurs to the state’s economy, Abbott said.

Doctors and healthcare professionals are allowed to open their offices on May 1. Hospitals will continue to be required to reserve a portion of their beds for COVID-19 patients.

State officials will consider lifting restrictions on gyms, bars and hair salons at a later date. The state is looking at ways to reopen child care and summer camps for children, but has made no decisions.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Sandra Maler and Tom Brown)