“Because of the efforts by everyone to slow the spread, we’re now beginning to see glimmers that the worst of Covid-19 may soon be behind us,” Abbott said at a news conference.
The red state governor’s cautious approach to opening private businesses served as an important counterpoint to President Donald Trump’s optimism about the readiness of the economy. Texas has long brandished its reputation as one of the most pro-business states in the country, yet Abbott said repeatedly that data from medical experts will guide his orders about what kinds of businesses will reopen in May at a time when schools will remain closed.
The statewide task force will include Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, who stirred controversy across the nation in late March by arguing that Americans should be allowed to go back to work, Dr. Mark McClellan, the former federal administrator of Medicaid and Medicare, and several doctors from Texas universities.
“We have demonstrated that we can corral the coronavirus,” Abbott said, pointing to a statistic that Texas has the “second-most recoveries from Covid-19 of all states in America.”
“Understand this: opening in Texas must occur in stages. Obviously, not all businesses can open all at once on May the first. Some businesses, if fully open, without better distancing standards, would be more likely to set us back, rather than to propel us forward. A more strategic approach is required to ensure that we don’t reopen only to have to shut down once again.”
In contrast, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said his state of 20 million people has tested more than 500,000 people for coronavirus over the past month. California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has set a goal of conducting 25,000 tests a day by the end of this month within the state’s population of 40 million people.
Abbott has said the state is trying to ramp up testing in partnership with private industry and has said he sees “glimmers of hope” in testing data so far “with a bunch of red flags attached.”
The Republican governor has spoken frequently with Vice President Mike Pence as the Trump administration tries to help bolster the struggling energy sector, and Abbott said he also conferred with Trump about his reopening plans over the weekend.
Unemployment claims in Texas rose above one million over the past month, representing about 7.2% of the state’s total labor force, leading some business leaders to nudge Abbott toward reopening. The state’s economy is reeling not only from coronavirus closures but also the plunge in oil prices, which have fallen from about $60 a barrel down below $20 since January.
The need for coronavirus resources in Texas will not peak until April 29, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and local officials have cited ongoing concerns about the inadequate level of testing.
Abbott issued his stay-at-home order on April 2. Since then, he has said he is working on plans to reopen private businesses “slowly, strategically, smartly and safely.”
This story has been updated to include additional comments and background information.