Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about the state’s response to COVID-19 during a news conference on Monday, April 13, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Gov. Abbott orders public and private schools to remain closed, forms strike force to ease economy back open

Governor Greg Abbott announced that all public and private schools in the state will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

This article was originally posted By Cory McCoy [email protected] Apr 17, 2020, for Tyler Morning Telegraph.

Abbott made the announcement, along with news that he had signed several executive orders to help ease the state’s economy back open, during a press conference on Friday.

Abbott said public schools must provide online instruction to receive regular funding and avoid extending their school year.

He also said teachers will be allowed in classrooms for video instruction and administrative duties.

Tyler Independent School District said in a statement that they are awaiting guidance from the Texas Education Agency on how to handle graduation and wrapping up the spring semester. The district will communicate that information to parents as soon as possible.

The district is expected to have more information during its regular board meeting on Monday. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live on the Tyler ISD website and Tyler ISD Suddenlink Channel 19

Grace Community School Head of School Jay Ferguson said he’s watching closely for those guidelines from the state. He said it’s disappointing they won’t get to see students again this school year, but their safety is a priority.

“I was not surprised, I was disappointed because I was hoping we were going to be able to be together as a school for the last coupe of weeks, however I do think the governor is making good decisions,” Ferguson said. “I’m looking forward to seeing those (guidelines) like everyone else, we have graduation ceremonies planned and would like to comply with whatever those guidelines are.”

Ferguson said the school is working on ways to honor seniors and to keep morale up. They’ve been doing online “spirit days” inviting students to dress up, teachers who are delivering instructional packets are also getting into the spirit and dressing up for students.

Grace also is hosting weekly virtual prayer sessions, regularly calling families and did a webinar with licenses professional counselors to help families learn was to cope with mental, emotional and spiritual issues they might be having.

“We’ve really been trying to do a comprehensive care effort,” Ferguson said.

Opening the economy

Abbott announced the formation of a “strike force” committee to reopen the economy, with further details coming April 27 contingent upon how well contained the coronavirus is. The strike force, led by James Huffines and Mike Toomey, is comprised of dozens of business and health leaders including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, businessman Michael Dell, Houston’s beloved Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and Brookshire Grocery Co. Chairman Brad Brookshire, among others.

Abbott also announced a plan for “retail to go” which will allow retailers to begin operating “to go” on April 24. Smith County has already allowed a similar provision under Judge Nathaniel Moran’s stay at home order. Moran will announce steps being taken on the local level next Thursday.

Abbott will loosen restrictions on surgeries and certain medical testing beginning April 22. This order stipulates that the procedures cannot deplete the hospital’s protective gear supply, and the facilities will need to set aside at least 25% of its capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients.

The state also is expected to see testing for COVID-19 ramp up in the coming weeks, with most testing coming from the private sector.

Abbott said more than 1 million Texans have successfully been able to apply for unemployment benefits, and expects more funding for unemployment benefits to come from the federal government.

After restrictions are eased, Abbott said he expects responses to COVID-19 outbreaks will be more narrow and focused on the communities seeing the spread, rather than statewide action. He stressed that the virus is not likely to go away any time soon without the development and rollout of effective medication or a vaccine.

State parks are expected to reopen Monday. Visitors will be required to wear face masks or coverings and groups will be limited to five people.

Further information on restrictions for movie theaters, gyms, salons and other businesses will likely be included in the April 27 update.

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