TYLER, Texas — Friday will be the first big step in the reopening of Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott announced Monday that restaurants, movie theaters, retailers, and more will be able to welcome a small number of customers again for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“It’s time to set a new course, a course that responsibly opens up business in Texas,” Gov. Abbott said during a press conference.
He allowed the executive order that established which businesses and activities were essential and encouraged people to stay at home to expire on April 30. In its place will be a series of executive orders that determine which companies may reopen and under what conditions.
The first wave of re-openings includes restaurant dining rooms, movie theaters, retailers, shopping malls, libraries, museums, and golf courses and tennis courts. Museums may not open any interactive exhibits, and all of them must limit the number of customers inside at a time to 25 percent of their official capacity.
“Just as we united as one state to slow, COViD-19, we must also come together to rebuild the lives and livelihoods of our fellow Texans,” Gov. Abbott stated.
“As the governor was speaking,” Howard Charba recalled, “we started getting text messages wanting to reserve some of our theaters.”
Times Square Grand Slam gets to welcome diners and movie-goers again. Charba, its owner, said he installed a new air purification system and plans to screen every employee to make sure they are healthy.
He plans to sell masks to customers at a low cost, installed plastic screens in some areas, and established other health and safety procedures.
In addition to increasing the time between showings to allow for more thorough cleanings, he also updated the movie theater’s online seat assignment system. Two theaters will be available for private rentals, while the other five will be open for daily screenings.
Each of those theaters has now been divided into seating sections.
“So, the customer can actually go online and look at the seating chart that’s gonna be available, and they can pick their seats,” Charba explained. “And then, if somebody picks a seat, let’s say there’s five seats available in that area, and only one person wants to watch it, well then, that area is off-limits to everybody else, so we can still keep our distancing.”
Many businesses, though, will have to remain closed.
“Now, there are some businesses that I want to open, that Texans want open, that the doctors advised were simply not safe enough to open at this particular time,” Gov. Abbott explained. “They include barber shops and hair salons, bars and gyms. We are working with our medical team, as well as working with members of the industry sectors to open these businesses as soon as possible. My hope is they will open on, or no later than, mid-May.”
That news disappointed Hayley Cox, who owns Prism Beauty Bar.
“I believe there are a lot of stylists in the area that, like myself, their livelihood depends on them working,” Cox said. “And there is a safe way for us to be able to do this. And, with going into stores like Home Depot, me crossing the aisle and being that close to somebody is no different than my being that close to somebody doing hair.”
She had been preparing to reopen on May 1, as well, until the governor’s announcement put that plan on hold. She said the day she gets to welcome her clients back into her salon would be the best day ever and mentioned that she has already thought out procedures she believes would keep her employees and clients safe.
“We will be giving, you know, masks to every client who comes in,” Cox said. “We will be doing, we will take temperatures of every client that walks in, with an infrared thermometer. So, we will all be in masks all the time. We will be gloved up all the time. We will have one client per stylist in the salon at all times. So, we will definitely be taking measures to stay safe, because, at the end of the day, we are still concerned about the exposure. However, as a business owner, the business has to open back up.”
Cox said, as soon as she is allowed, she plans to work every day for at least a month to make up for all the appointments she had to cancel.
She said neither she nor any of her employees are making house calls because that does not feel safe. And despite any frustration about not being allowed to reopen yet, she said she respects the governor’s decision.
“I want to be mindful that he has access to information that I possibly don’t,” Cox stated, “and if he’s saying it’s not safe to open up, I’m going to trust in that.”
Gov. Abbott said the COVID-19 infection rate in Texas had declined for 17 consecutive days thanks to restrictions and social distancing measures.
He said he would like two more full weeks of data before deciding whether to expand occupancy rates for the first wave of businesses or whether to allow more to open. He targeted May 18 as a potential date for salons, barber shops, bars, and gyms to reopen.
He worries that failure to follow best practices could lead to a second spike in infections.
“Now more than ever, Texans must continue safe distancing practices,” Gov. Abbott said. “If we do that, we will be able to expand into Phase Two, opening up our economy even more.