AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas kept charging ahead with reopening Tuesday as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott gave hair salons permission to return to business alongside restaurants and retailers, and defended the pace of rebooting one of the nation’s biggest states as experts warn that going too fast could result in new outbreaks.
In letting barbershops and hair salons open starting Friday, Abbott appeared to be moving faster than he suggested even a week ago when he allowed stay-at-home-orders in Texas to expire. Restaurants and retailers in Texas began reopening under limited capacity Friday, but that has not satisfied even some GOP lawmakers who want a fare quicker reopening of the state.
Two Republican state lawmakers Tuesday got haircuts at a barbershop outside Houston in defiance of Abbott’s orders, saying they were supporting business owners that need to get back to work. Last week, Abbott had mentioned mid-May as a target for hair salons to open, along with bars and gyms.
Abbott said has now set May 18 as the day when gyms can reopen, while bars continued to be shuttered indefinitely.
He fired back at criticism over whether Texas is moving too fast during a news conference at the Texas Capitol, at one point rattling off a list of experts he says he has consulted with in making decisions, including Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force.
“How do I know that we are on an adequate trajectory, and this plan fits on that trajectory? Dr. Birx herself has said it,” Abbott said. “There’s always going to be a difference of opinion among doctors. Just like all of these experts said Texas was going to have all these massive deaths, it was going to have a high-water mark of 260 deaths per day. Never turned out to be true.”
Texas has 33,000 cases and more than 900 deaths linked to the virus. Abbott has emphasized that he is most closely watching hospitalization rates in Texas that have remained steady and infection rates that are now below 5% in Texas, which is down from more than 7% two weeks ago.
An Associated Press analysis found that the five-day rolling average for new cases nationwide has decreased from 9.3 per 100,000 people three weeks ago on April 13 to 8.6 on Monday.
Testing for the virus in the U.S. has been expanded, and that has probably contributed to the increasing rate of confirmed infections. But it doesn’t explain the entire increase, said Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang, a public health researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles.
He said he is particularly concerned about Florida and Texas, places where cases have been rising steadily and the potential for explosions seems high.
Democratic Rep. Chris Turner, the leader of House Democrats, tweeted that the rising number of cases in Texas suggest that “”doctors & data’ are not driving decisions” as the governor has said previously.
Abbott has said he is aware that cases could mount as Texas begins reopening, and said surge teams will be dispatched to jump on any new hot spots. “If infections get out of control we will be able to quickly respond to it,” he said.
Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak