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Coronavirus: Texas Governor Issues Executive Orders to Combat COVID-19

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-08 related to COVID-19 on March 19, 2020 at 11:50 a.m. local time. The Executive Order includes four orders that are in accordance with the federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and President Trump and serve to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Texas. The executive orders are effective as of March 20, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. and remain in effect until April 3, 2020.

The four executive orders are as follows:

Order No. 1: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.

Order No. 2: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts, or visiting gyms or massage parlors; provided, however, that the use of drive-thru, pick-up, or delivery options is allowed and highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of this Executive Order.

Order No. 3: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, people shall not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.

Order No. 4: In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, schools shall temporarily close.

The guidance states that critical infrastructure will remain operational, domestic travel is unrestricted, and essential services will continue to be provided. The guidance clearly does not prohibit people from visiting a variety of places, including grocery stores, gas stations, parks, and banks, so long as necessary precautions are taken to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Finally, the guidance states that employees should maintain good hygiene at work places that remain open, but that where feasible, residents of Texas should work from home to maintain the optimum isolation.

At yesterday's press conference, Governor Abbott was joined by Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, who announced a Public Health Disaster, giving state and local officials additional tools to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The most recent Texas statistics can be found here, and as of March 20, 2020, Harris, Dallas, and Travis counties have the highest number of cases, with 24, 22, and 21 respectively. Statewide there are 194 cases and there have been five deaths. The total number of lab tests performed in Texas is just over 5,000.

As can be expected, the executive orders have generated many questions as Texas businesses try to navigate a constantly changing reality. The Texas DSHS has issued guidance for hospitals and health care professionals related to testing, patient evaluation, preparedness, infection control and discontinuation of isolation precautions.

Yesterday, the major hospitals in the Texas Medical Center announced that they are suspending elective surgeries until at least mid-April. The policy applies to suburban and Medical Center locations and is part of its planning for a potential surge of patients with the new coronavirus.

If you have any questions regarding these issues, or any other health care regulatory or transactional matters, please contact Stuart Miller or Daniel Sternthal or any other member of Baker Donelson's Health Law Team. Also, please visit the Coronavirus (COVID-19): What You Need to Know information page on our website.

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