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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces temporary statewide school, restaurant, gym closures

Gov. Greg Abbott is temporarily closing schools, restaurant dining areas, gyms and bars statewide in his most sweeping action yet to stop the spread of the novel corona virus. The order is effective early Saturday morning and continues until April 3, he said Thursday.

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“All jurisdictions must work to contain the spread of COVID-19 for at least the next two weeks,” Abbott said in a televised announcement from the Texas Capitol.

His executive order limits social gatherings to no more than 10 people and restricts people from visiting nursing homes and retirement centers unless they are providing “critical assistance,” he said. While dining in at restaurants and bars will not be allowed, Abbott encouraged Texans to continue ordering food from local eateries for pickup or delivery.All schools in Texas will be temporarily closed, though Abbott said superintendents should work with the state to continue “online or additional education options.”

The order may be extended beyond April 3, depending on the status of COVID-19 in Texas then, Abbott said. He emphasized that the action is not a shelter-in-place order. It does not prohibit people from going to the grocery store, gas stations, banks or parks, he said.

Offices and workplaces can remain open, but employees should be allowed to work from home Dallas Latest News if feasible, Abbott said.

The Republican will refrain from travel, if at all possible, to avoid potential transmission of the virus, he said. During a televised town hall Thursday night, Abbott revealed that he had tested negative for the virus.

“We are doing this now, today, so we can get back to business as usual more quickly,” he said.

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Abbott said government agencies would be able to enforce his order. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, for example, could revoke a bar’s license to serve alcohol if it stays open.

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“Literally, their life as an ongoing business is on the line if they violate the order,” Abbott said during the town hall.

Churches and funerals are not affected by the restrictions, though Abbott said it would be best to keep funerals small, separate mourners or stream the service online.

The state also has power to more easily order people into quarantine, after the leader of the Texas Department of State Health Services declared a public health disaster Thursday. The last time that happened was in 1901, in response to smallpox, officials said.“We don’t want to exercise that authority right now because we want to depend upon the responsibility that all Texans will show,” Abbott said. “If Texans are irresponsible in their behavior though, there are more tools where we could be more aggressive, only if needed.”

DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt said Thursday’s actions were prudent to stop the spread of COVID-19, which he called the "greatest public health challenge in living memory.” At least four deaths in Texas have been attributed to the disease, including one in Dallas Press Release Distribution Service County.

“If we delay, we will not only pay a higher price than is necessary, but we will rue the day that we, all of Texas, did not choose to act decisively,” Hellerstedt said.

Before Thursday, Abbott had left much of the decision-making to mayors, county leaders and elected school boards, resulting in a patchwork of restrictions. Dallas and Fort Worth had closed restaurants, for example, but Frisco had not.The varied approach frustrated some local officials, who warned that their own strict rules could be undermined by neighboring counties with more lax restrictions.

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