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Gov. Abbott says Texas salons and barbershops can reopen Friday

Wednesday, May 6, 2020 by Marisa Charpentier, KUT

Hair salons, barbershops, nail salons and tanning salons may reopen starting Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced. Gyms, nonessential manufacturers and businesses that work out of office buildings will be allowed to reopen May 18, with certain restrictions.

“Our ability to show we can coexist with Covid-19 depends on ongoing efforts and good hygiene to continue to slow the spread,” Abbott said during a news conference Tuesday.

The order was the latest in the governor’s phased approach to reopening the Texas economy during the Covid-19 pandemic. His announcement came just four days after the first phase began.

Under Abbott’s new order, there can be only one customer per stylist at a salon and people waiting can be inside the salon only if they can stay 6 feet away from others. Appointment-only services are preferred, he said, and customers and stylists are strongly recommended to wear face masks.

Gyms and exercise facilities that reopen will need to limit capacity to 25 percent, and certain parts of the facilities, like locker rooms and showers, must remain closed. Abbott said equipment must be disinfected after each use, and customers should wear gloves and stay 6 feet away from others.

Nonessential manufacturers will also have to limit capacity to 25 percent. There should be a staggered workforce, and workers will need to be 6 feet apart. If they can’t be that far apart, other measures, like Plexiglas barriers between workspaces, should be used.

Businesses in office buildings can allow either five employees on-site or 25 percent of staff, whichever is greater. Employees will be required to maintain social distance.

Abbott said businesses do not have to reopen; his new order just gives them the green light to do so. He said the decision to open these businesses came after discussions with local businesses, industry leaders and his medical team. The state is still working to figure out safe ways for bars to reopen, he said.

Abbott said it’s still important to maintain social distancing practices. After all, he noted, a cure or treatment for Covid-19 is not yet available.

“If Texans stop using the distancing strategies they have been utilizing over the past month, they will cause an increase in Covid-19 transmission,” he said. “If that happens it could lead to some counties having to impose stricter standards.”

During the news conference, the governor praised Texas’ ability to keep hospitals from reaching capacity. Even though more people are testing positive for Covid-19, he said, the hospitalization rate has remained steady or steadily declining.

“What that tells us is Texas is fully capable of being able to manage the health care needs of everybody who contracts Covid-19,” Abbott said. “There has never been any evidence whatsoever that Texas either has or will be facing the types of challenges that we’ve seen in places like New York, New Jersey, New Orleans or some of these other places where they were scrambling to amass the resources that were needed to respond to Covid-19.”

During a Travis County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, outgoing Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said she and Austin Mayor Steve Adler still plan on extending their stay-at-home order by Friday.

Eckhardt said she believes the city-county plan will jibe with Abbott’s new order, but that she hoped to work with local business owners to reduce risks at high-contact businesses like hair salons.

“We remain convinced at the Austin-Travis County public health department that Stay Home, Work Safe is our most proven, effective strategy to reducing the curve,” she said. “We also remain committed to working with our business community to finding additional strategies so that we can bring commerce back up.”

Adler responded to Abbott’s new order in a statement Tuesday evening. He said the governor should have waited “the necessary 3-4 weeks to count increased infections and hospitalizations before layering on more risk.”

“Austinites: Make wise personal choices,” Adler said. “It’s dangerous for many to consider going to a barber, a salon, or a gym. It’s most dangerous for the barber and the stylist and you cannot sufficiently protect them. Note that the governor emphasizes 6-foot distancing, no groups larger than a few outside your household, and the need for face coverings.”

Andrew Weber contributed to this report. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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