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Governor's orders move state toward reopening

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AUSTIN — In line with signals from the White House to restart the nation's economy, Gov. Greg Abbott on April 17 issued executive orders to move the Lone Star State toward normalizing citizens’ activities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Transactions that pose little threat of spreading the deadly virus may reopen using a retail to-go model beginning April 24, Abbott ordered. On the other hand, schools must remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year.

Teachers will have limited access to campuses for video instruction, to perform administrative duties and to clean out their classrooms, the governor added. In response, the Texas Education Agency issued a statement saying, “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.”

Abbott said he would announce a revised plan for the state on April 27 based on recommendations by his newly appointed Strike Force to Open Texas. The team from the public, private and medical sectors will advise him on safely and strategically reopening the state.

Abbott also issued an order that loosens his March restrictions on non-emergency surgeries. That order was aimed at conserving hospital capacity and personal protective equipment for the COVID-19 response.  

Additionally, Abbott reopened state parks effective April 20. His new order requires park visitors to wear face coverings and maintain a six-foot distance from individuals outside of their party. Groups are to be no larger than five people.

After Abbott’s news conference, Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said, “We want the Texas economy to fully reopen as soon as possible, and public health experts agree that can only happen with robust testing in place. When it comes to decisions on how to defeat COVID-19, we have to continue to follow doctors’ orders.

“Texas continues to be in the bottom three states when it comes to COVID-19 testing per capita, and Gov. Abbott has failed to provide a clear plan for how Texas will increase testing. ... We need to dramatically increase testing, right now,” Turner added.

According to figures posted by the Texas Department of State Health Services at noon on April 19, some 18,923 people in Texas had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 477 deaths resulting from the disease had been confirmed.

Sales tax holiday set

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar is urging Texans to shop online or practice strict social distancing measures for in-store purchases during the April 25-27 sales tax holiday for emergency preparation supplies.

Hegar noted that the holiday is intended to help Texans prepare for events like hurricanes and spring storms. “Unfortunately, strong spring storms, wildfires and the upcoming hurricane season will still threaten Texans in the months ahead, and so it’s important that homes and businesses have the supplies they need to face these emergencies,” he said. 

Hegar recommended that shoppers visiting retailers practice social distancing as described by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The list of tax-free items is established by law. It does not include items such as masks or personal protection equipment, Hegar stressed. More information can be found at comptroller.texas.gov.

Hemp grower licensed

Earlier this month, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced the first Texas industrial hemp license had been issued to a farmer in Killeen. 

The license grants the farmer the opportunity to grow hemp in Texas for one year. As a part of the application process, the applicant specified a facility where the hemp will be grown, Miller said.

This first license represents the long-awaited launch of the hemp industry in Texas following the passage of the Farm Bill by Congress in 2018, he added.

Rebuild hits milestone

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush on April 15 announced the Texas General Land Office has rebuilt more than 1,000 homes destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The construction was funded through the Homeowner Assistance Program. 

Bush's sights are set on rebuilding 7,000 homes using $1.334 billion in available Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery, plus an additional $500 million in Community Development Block Grants for Mitigation that come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

More than 2,500 applicants have been approved for assistance by the General Land Office. An estimated 800 homes are currently under construction, in addition to those completed.

"The GLO's disaster recovery team continues working hard every day to help Texas families rebuild their homes and their lives following one of this nation's largest and most destructive storms," Bush said.