Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
On April 27, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-18 (Order) regarding the reopening of Texas businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. The Order permits essential services, as defined in the Order, to continue operations, and expands the types of businesses authorized to reopen on May 1, 2020, including retailers, restaurants, movie theaters, museums and libraries, contact-free outdoor sports, places of worship, and single-person offices, nearly all of which are subject to a 25% occupancy restriction. The Order also permits all licensed healthcare professionals to return to work with minor restrictions.
The Order is part of the Governor’s 3-phase plan for reopening the state and was issued in tandem with a report entitled Texans Helping Texans: The Governor's Report to Open Texas (the “Governor’s report”). The report was prepared by the governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas, which comprises nationally recognized medical experts, as well as private and public sector leaders, responsible for providing strategic advice to the governor regarding the state’s reopening. This detailed, 60+-page report asks businesses and individuals to cautiously approach reopenings, explains the multi-phase reopening plan, and outlines new protocols, guidance, and recommendations, all of which are very measured and health-driven. In this regard, the state’s chief medical officer’s portion of the report requests, among other things, continued social distancing, limited physical contact, and use of face coverings and, in support of continued telecommuting, advises individuals to “stay home if you can.” The report includes a series of general and industry-specific checklists that outline the Texas Department of State Health Services’ (DSHS) minimum standard health protocols. The report advises employers and employees to “review, print out and follow the MINIMUM health protocols recommended by DSHS…, in addition to state and federal employment laws and workplace safety standards.”
The governor retains the sole discretion to identify any county or counties in which reopened services should be terminated or restricted, based on his determination in consultation with medical professionals that only essential services should be permitted in any county. His determination may, among other things, be based on factors such as an increase in the transmission of COVID-l 9 or in the amount of COVID-19-related hospitalizations or fatalities.
Regarding enforcement, the Order prohibits local officials from imposing restrictions inconsistent with the governor’s Order. Local officials may, however, enforce his Order, as well as local restrictions that are consistent with his Order, except regarding face coverings. Face coverings are only recommended in Texas and no state or local official can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering.
The Order took effect on May 1 and expires at 11:59 p.m. on May 15, unless it is modified, amended, rescinded, or superseded by the governor.
Also on April 27, the governor issued Executive Order GA-19 relaxing certain restrictions related to health care professionals, and issued amended requirements related to hospital capacity. In addition, he issued Executive Order GA-20 eliminating the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine period for individuals traveling from Louisiana.
In furtherance of the governor’s reopening plan, on April 30, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) issued new guidance for unemployment claimants concerning their eligibility for unemployment benefits should they refuse to return to work because of COVID-19. Under this guidance, claimants can continue to receive unemployment benefits during the pandemic if they decline offered work for one of the following reasons:
- At high risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
- Household member at high risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
- Diagnosed with COVID-19: The individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the state of Texas and is not recovered.
- Family member with COVID-19: Anybody in the household has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the state of Texas and is not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed.
- Quarantined: The individual is currently in a 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.
- Child care: A child’s school or daycare is closed and no alternatives are available.
Any other COVID-19-related situation will be subject to a case-by-case review by the TWC based on individual circumstances.
COUNTY STAY-HOME/SAFE ORDERS
The remainder of this alert summarizes the impact of Executive Order GA-18 on the latest County Stay-Home/Safe Orders. For more information regarding these orders, and their predecessors, please see our prior ASAP.
Bexar County’s “Stay Home, Work Safe Order” and supplement requiring face coverings expired on April 30.
Travis County’s Stay-at-Home Order, which includes requirements for face coverings, expires by its own terms on May 8, 2020. However, the governor’s Order supersedes all local orders that are more restrictive and prohibits the county from imposing a fine or penalty for not wearing a face covering.
Williamson County's Stay Home Stay Safe order expired on April 30, in line with the statewide Stay-at-Home Order.
Collin County has not had a Stay Home Order in place since Collin County Judge Chris Hill rescinded his March 24, 2020 Order, which deemed all businesses essential, on March 31, 2020, following Governor Abbott’s March 31, 2020 Executive Order requiring all non-essential businesses to close through April 30. Businesses located in Collin County may therefore operate as set forth in the governor’s Order.
On April 3, 2020, the Dallas County Commissioners Court extended its local disaster declaration through May 20. Under the extended disaster declaration, Dallas County Judge Jenkins extended the County’s Shelter-in-Place Order through April 30. On April 21, Judge Jenkins, along with, Commissioners Elba Garcia and Theresa Daniel, voted to extend the Shelter-in-Place Order through May 15. The governor’s Order supersedes the extended Dallas County Order and renders invalid any provisions contained therein that conflict with the governor’s Order.
On March 31, 2020, the Denton County Commissioners Court extended its Stay-at-Home Order through April 7, 2020. On April 7, the Order was again extended through April 30 to align with the governor’s Order and expired on April 30.
Tarrant County's Stay-at-Home Order expired on April 30, consistent with the statewide Stay-at-Home Order. County Judge B. Glen Whitley has not yet extended the order or publicly expressed plans to do so. On April 29, 2020, however, Fort Worth—the largest city in Tarrant County—adopted a resolution that aligns with the governor’s Order, but also includes some additional penalties for individuals and entities found in violation of the governor’s Order and resolution. Specifically, with this resolution, the City of Fort Worth may issue Class C misdemeanor citations for any violations or use other civil enforcement tools—like injunctive relief—to ensure compliance. The City of Fort Worth resolution supersedes its earlier disaster declaration and will expire when the governor’s Order expires, unless an earlier special-called meeting is held to amend the resolution.
On May 1, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price announced her “Y’all get ready” campaign which supplements her “Y’all stay home” COVID-19 campaign implemented at the outset of pandemic. Her new campaign is intended to help safely and strategically open city businesses in tandem with the president’s Guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations, and the governor’s Order.
Harris County’s Stay Home, Work Safe Order expired on April 30. Harris County’s Use of Cloth Face Coverings Order, which became effective on April 27, 2020 and expires on May 26, 2020, has been revised to comply with the governor’s Order to now provide that no fine or penalties will be imposed for not wearing a face covering.