Statewide NewsA Timeline of Texas’ COVID-19 Policies One Year After ‘15 Days to Slow the Spread’

All counties in Texas have been under a declared disaster for over a year. Here’s a look back at the policies implemented under the designation in comparison with the data.
March 31, 2021
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March 31, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the last day of the “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” a public awareness campaign launched by the Trump administration urging the public to take social distancing and isolation precautions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Though the campaign from the White House was only guidelines and recommendations, it was accompanied by various orders at the state and local levels that mandated individuals stay at home under the threat of fines or jail time, with exceptions for so-called “essential activities” such as grocery shopping.

In Texas, local lockdown orders began throughout early and mid-March of 2020, with Governor Greg Abbott declaring a statewide disaster for all 254 counties on March 13.

Below is a look at the coronavirus data from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) compared with the timing of Abbott’s most far-reaching executive actions in response to the pandemic.

Click to enlarge image. Note that the trend-line of deaths is based on the date of death as reported by DSHS as of March 29.
Spring 2020

Though some infected passengers from a cruise ship were quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base in February, the first confirmed COVID-19 case reported by DSHS in Texas was on March 4 in Fort Bend County.

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Fears about the virus grew in late February and early March, and major events such as the South by Southwest festival were canceled.

On March 13, Abbott declared a state of disaster for all counties in Texas — something that empowers him to take broader actions under the Texas Disaster Act. 

Abbott has renewed his statewide COVID-19 disaster on a monthly basis since then.

On March 19, Abbott signed his first coronavirus-related executive order (GA-08) which began Texas’ lockdowns with a prohibition on social gatherings of more than 10 people and mandated the closure of dine-in restaurants, nursing homes, and schools.

Not long after, Abbott signed a new order to extend and expand his lockdown throughout the month of April.

During March, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases remained low, though at that stage, testing in the state was sparse and a more methodical system to report cases was yet to be implemented.

However, in contrast to dire projections, hospitals across the state maintained plenty of capacity.

Shortly after the end of the “15 days to slow the spread,” the White House Coronavirus Task Force with Dr. Anthony Fauci as the face announced updated guidelines on April 2 that said the following 30-day window would be crucial.

Throughout April, the number of coronavirus tests conducted in Texas expanded rapidly, thanks largely to private labs that were processing the bulk of tests.

But overall, there was no major spike or decline in April’s data.

At the end of the month, Abbott announced plans for “Phase I” of reopening to begin on May 1, with retail stores and dine-in restaurants permitted to resume operations but at a maximum of 25 percent capacity.

Under his executive order to begin reopening, Abbott stated that “Individuals are encouraged to wear appropriate face coverings, but no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering.”

After public pushback, Abbott announced that salons could reopen on May 8 and gyms could reopen on May 18, provided that they follow certain health protocols.

The reopening continued with Phase II on May 22, when Abbott permitted office buildings and bars to reopen at 25 percent capacity, and restaurants to expand to 50 percent capacity.

Summer

Though spring passed by without any notable surge in cases, the tide began to turn in mid-June as the number of confirmed cases grew larger and larger.

Some blamed Memorial Day weekend for the surge while others looked to the crowded George Floyd protests that erupted across the state in late May, but regardless, the rise in cases led to more forceful reactions from elected officials.

Though the governor’s reopening order banned face mask mandates for individuals, on June 17 Abbott approved of counties forcing businesses to require face masks.

The most populous counties in the state all implemented such orders.

And on June 26, Abbott renewed his lockdown orders, limiting restaurant capacity to 50 percent and closing down bars.

On July 2, Abbott’s stance on masks changed again when he issued a statewide mask mandate that made individuals liable for fines.

Though cases and hospitalizations affected areas differently — with areas such as Houston and the Rio Grande Valley saw a greater strain on hospital capacities — Texas saw its first clear peak in cases in July.

The COVID-19 numbers began declining in late July and continued to fall throughout August and September.

Beginning September 21, a new order from Abbott permitted many businesses to expand reopening capacity to 75 percent, though bars remained closed.

The new reopening policy came with a catch, though.

Stricter capacity limits would kick into effect for an area if the hospital region that it was in saw an influx of COVID-19 cases that rose above the 15 percent of the region’s hospital capacity for seven consecutive days.

Beginning October 14, county judges in regions below that 15 percent threshold could also permit bars to reopen at 50 percent capacity.

Winter

Just as some bars were permitted to reopen, Texas was seeing an increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

But unlike in the first half of the pandemic, Abbott did not continue issuing different executive orders in response to the circumstances.

Rather, he kept his last two reopening orders in place and relied on the built-in triggers.

Hospitalizations and cases continued to grow as high as was seen during the summer surge, though at a much slower pace.

By the second peak in January, nearly the entire state was under the stricter business capacity limits of Abbott’s triggered orders.

But as the number of cases and hospitalizations reached a new high in the state, coronavirus vaccines were being rushed to the rescue, with priority given to medical workers and senior citizens, who are statistically the most vulnerable.

Spring 2021

As vaccinations have been administered, the number of confirmed cases has plummeted, even accounting for the abnormal dip seen in late February during the Texas freeze.

On March 2, Abbott announced that he would be ending his statewide mask mandate and permitting businesses to reopen at 100 percent capacity, provided that they are in a region below the previously established 15 percent threshold.

County executives in regions that see hospitalizations rise above that threshold may institute stricter capacity limits, but all businesses may continue operations with at least 50 percent capacity and no fines can be imposed on individuals or businesses to require masks.

As of March 30, 10.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered.

3.9 million Texans have been fully vaccinated with the required two doses, while another 3.4 million have received one dose.

 

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.

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