April 26, 2020

Texas Mask Orders Could Be Short-Lived with May 8
as Reopen Date Restaurants and Health Pros Expect

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

UT Virus Experts Give UW Team
Better than Even Odds on Texas

Death Count Apex Accuracy

Coronavirus trackers at the University of Texas are estimating that a team of counterparts in Seattle has a 51 percent chance of being right about the death toll having peaked in the Lone Star State late last week.

The UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium's latest projections show there to be a 71 percent chance that the pandemic fatality count here will hit a high point in the next week with 83 percent of the death peak being in the past 14 days from now.

The University of Washington Health Metrics and Evaluation Institute estimates that the number of virus deaths in Texas peaked two days ago. But that's based on an outlook that's four days old and probably going to change as the coronavirus continues to baffle the experts in its trek across America.

The researchers at the state's flagship university in Austin are predicting today that the virus fatality tally will continue to rise in the Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio areas for at least a week before taking a downward turn. But the UT team says there's a 71 percent chance that the death climb peak has gone and gone in the San Antonio area while giving El Paso 50-50 odds of having the fatality count peak there.


Texans could be getting the green light to start eating out and drinking in restaurants and bars again early next month with strict social distancing mandates in place based on unofficial indications that businesses and professionals have been getting on state and local reopening plans in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Doctors and dentists who've either had offices closed or open exclusively for patients with problems that require immediate attention have been booking appointments amid expectations of May 8 as the starting gun for the next phase of the Texas reopening that Governor Greg Abbott plans to announce on Monday. Abbott suggested last week that a wide-range of other businesses from movie theaters to hair salons could be on track to reopen soon as well.

But the reset that the dining and health care industries have been told to expect won't be possible from a practical perspective unless the Republican governor uses his power to overturn mask orders that local leaders have imposed in the state's largest cities and at least one very small town to slow the spread of COVID-19 in their jurisdictions.

The reopening that Abbott plans to direct in increments won't be a real return to normal with or without face-covering rules in effect. Restaurant owners in Texas have been gearing as an example to reopen for on-premise dining by the second week in May with rigid new conditions including the use of disposable plates, cups, plastic ware and individual containers for condiments such as salt, pepper and ketchup.

Tables will be spaced apart in compliance with federal guidelines that require eateries to abide by new hygiene standards and social distancing rules for employees and customers. The more popular restaurants around the state won't be able to operate at full capacity based on the standards here before the coronavirus outbreak in Texas two months ago.

While businesses that Abbott hasn't designated as essential have been closed for more than three weeks, restaurants around the state have had the option of offering curbside service or deliveries to residences where Texans have been sheltering in place for the past six weeks in the larger cities.

The relatively soft lockdown that the governor implemented statewide on April 2 is set to expire on April 30. But most of the mayors and county judges in the state's major metropolitan areas that have had simultaneous orders on the books since the last week in March are Democrats who've expressed concerns about a rush to a reopening that could backfire with an escalated virus surge.

An Abbott executive that puts an end to face-covering requirements to which a majority of the state's 29 million residents have been subject would be a controversial move at a time when polls show that most of the governor's constituents approve of the relatively cautious approach that he's taken up to now compared to some of his GOP counterparts in other southern states.

But it's also conceivable that Abbott could have raised expectations for the state's restart to a higher level than they will actually turn out to be in light of the fact that Abbott offered the reopening preview in a series of radio interviews that were conducted before President Donald Trump expressed his disapproval with the fast-track plan that Georgia had ready to go on Friday.

Republican leaders like Abbott could see Trump's tossing of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp under the coronavirus bus as a signal to take it slower than some had been hoping with the revival of an economy that medical experts fear some states are rushing with plans that will spark an upsurge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Abbott has caught considerable heat from hardline conservatives who've been demanding an immediate reopening on the grounds that their constitutional rights have been trampled by government leaders who've overreacted to a disease that the media has hyped as a way to help Democrats.

The Texas reopening comes at a time when estimates on the virus spread and death peak here have fluctuated wildly. An elite team of coronavirus trackers at the Health Metrics and Evaluations Institute at the University of Washington have warned that Texas wouldn't be ready to start easing lockdowns safely before June 8 on the condition that the state had an effective containment strategy in place.

While the researchers at the public university in Seattle estimate that the virus death toll in Texas hit a high point two days ago, a separate group of scientists at the University of Texas in Austin have revised a forecast that they'd brightened last week. The UT Coronavirus Modeling Consortium estimated on Sunday there to be a 51 percent chance that the fatality count has peaked.


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