As students are adapting to distance/online learning at home and healthcare workers are handling a surge of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, state officials and governors are debating whether to open their states sooner or later. Texas, the world’s 10th largest economy, is receiving a great amount of pressure to reopen after only a month of lockdown. In efforts to get the economy running again, Governor Greg Abbott announced earlier this week that Texas’s stay-at-home order will expire as planned today, April 30.
One should note that the Texas reopening is not a one size fits all plan, as Texas is a very large and diverse state. We have metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, but we also have large rural areas for our farmers and ranchers. Thus, the order will have guidelines for two circumstances: urban counties and rural counties with less than 5 confirmed cases. Unfortunately, no county in the Rio Grande Valley has less than 5 confirmed cases, so we immediately fall under the urban county category of guidelines.
The reopening allows business such as retail stores, movie theaters, malls, restaurants, and some offices to open- but at limited capacity. Counties with less than 5 cases can serve up to 50% capacity, while others, such as the Rio Grande Valley’s counties, can only serve up to 25% capacity. Meaning, restaurants will have limited and separated seating, movie theaters will skip rows and seats, and retail stores will enforce social distancing and restrict the number of occupants. Churches and places of worship may open, but they must follow social distancing guidelines. Outdoor sports are allowed, but they are very limited; only 4 participants or less can engage in the sport, and they must adhere to proper social distancing. Some examples of appropriate outdoor sports are golf and tennis. Libraries and museums may also reopen, but they must get special permission from the government and keep any interactive/hands-on exhibits closed. As announced earlier, schools will remain closed for the rest of the scholastic year.
Now, this is just the first phase of the reopening process. The second phase may begin as soon as May 18, but it all depends on the response to this first phase. If there is a spike in cases, restrictions may come into play again, or Abbott will just simply push back the date to enact phase two. The second phase will add gyms, barbers, bars, and hair salons to the list of businesses allowed to open.
Abbott also said this state order will overrule any local or county order. Since face masks aren’t mandated, only recommended, by the state of Texas, local authorities can no longer fine or penalize people for not wearing a facial covering. Despite no longer requiring the usage of facial coverings, the governor claims that “now more than ever, Texans must continue safe distancing practices.”
Students from World Scholars weighed in on the subject. Even though schools are still closed, an action that will definitely lessen the spread, they believe we should exercise more caution in the reopening. Some even think we are not ready to open at all. Jorge Cortez, a senior, says “[Quarantine] honestly has been boring but I still don’t think people should go out yet.” Evelyn Rodriguez, a junior, agrees: “I don’t think we should be opening again. It’s not safe yet.” However, other students, such as John Escareno, a junior, acknowledge that we need the economy to be back on track. “I can both respect and disrespect it. Abbott is most likely doing this out of trying to keep businesses and the state itself afloat, but bills like the one congress passed earlier could’ve done the exact same thing. When things like beaches and bars are open, one is essentially asking for a disease to spread. I can understand that people can get cabin fever, but it’s literally for the sake of survival. For people with jobs that need to be done, it’s respectable and understandable.” Escareno also highlighted the gravity of our unique and somber situation: “We’ll survive, the human race, the nation, Texas, and the RGV will all survive. What we need to worry about is how much we survive by.”
That, is indeed, the primary worry, among everyone.
Many of Abbott’s democratic counterparts disagree with the reopening, claiming the conditions aren’t appropriate. The biggest issue here is lack of testing. Currently, Texas is conducting over 9,000 tests a day (or, about 332 tests for every 100,000 Texans), but Abbott hopes to increase that number to 25,000 by the middle of May.
In the Rio Grande Valley, there are 310 cases & 5 deaths in Hidalgo county, 376 cases & 14 deaths in Cameron county, 8 cases & 0 deaths in Starr county, and 13 cases & 1 death in Willacy county. The cases in the Rio Grande Valley account for a small portion of the total cases in Texas: 27,054 cases and 732 deaths. It is agreed among health officials that ramping up testing is key in returning to normal life, but it appears that the United States, Texas included, is struggling with increasing those numbers.
It is imperative that our community continues to follow social distancing guidelines to decrease the spread of COVID-19. We must be cognizant of the elderly and vulnerable population; avoid leaving your house unless it is for essential errands or exercise. The only way we can combat this vicious disease is to work together, apart. As the Texas governor said, “Just as we united as one state to slow COVID-19, we must also come together to begin rebuilding the lives and the livelihoods of our fellow Texans.”