HealthcareStatewide NewsCOVID-19 in Texas: A Timeline of Gov. Abbott’s Executive Orders and Case Numbers

It's been six months since the coronavirus pandemic spread to Texas. Here's a look back at the policies that have been implemented.
September 7, 2020
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“World War III” trended on Twitter in the early days of the new decade after the U.S. airstrike of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani.

But hindsight is twenty-twenty.

Rather than a war with Iran, the year has been defined by the coronavirus pandemic — and government responses to it.

Lockdowns upended the economy, public behavior radically changed with the mandates of social distancing and face masks, and Congress spent trillions of taxpayer dollars in response to the virus.

Over the course of the past six months, Governor Greg Abbott has been the principal administrator of Texas’ COVID-19 policies, with left-leaning officials in the state’s most populous localities pushing for stricter regulations.

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Of the 29 executive orders Abbott has issued during his tenure in office, 22 have been related to the pandemic.

The last order — Abbott’s requirement for face coverings — was issued on July 2, and since late July, the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the state has continuously declined.

Below is a look at the COVID-19 data from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) compared with the timing of Abbott’s most far-reaching executive actions. 

Data from the Department of State Health Services. Note that the trend-line of deaths is based on the date of death as reported by DSHS as of Aug. 31.

January and February: Concerns about the virus begin to spread.

In early January, health officials had begun monitoring the situation in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.

U.S. officials frequently criticize the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for failing to take the proper steps that could have prevented the initial outbreak from escalating into a pandemic.

On January 31, President Trump issued travel restrictions on non-citizens who have traveled to China in the past two weeks.

Concerns in Texas about the virus continued to mount throughout February, as infected passengers aboard a cruise ship were quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base.

In late February, places like Iran and the Lombardy region of Italy saw a sizable outbreak of the virus.

March: Governments issue lockdown orders as cases spread throughout the U.S. and Europe.

In early March, cases continued growing in Italy and the United States began to see more infections, with Texas health officials reporting the first confirmed case in Fort Bend County on March 4.

The South by Southwest (SXSW) festival was canceled after Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a local state of disaster for the city, and other major cities and counties began issuing similar declarations.

On March 9, Italy locked down its entire country.

A few days later, on March 13, Abbott declared a state of disaster for all 254 Texas counties.

Throughout the following week, several local officials began issuing orders limiting public gatherings and instructing the public to stay at home.

On March 16, the White House Coronavirus Task Force issued health guidelines under the banner “15 Days to Slow the Spread.”

On March 19, Abbott signed his first coronavirus-related executive order (GA-08) that signaled the start of the state’s lockdown with a prohibition on social gatherings of more than 10 and mandated the closure of dine-in restaurants, nursing homes, and schools.

DSHS reports that when Abbott issued his first order, there were only 235 total known cases in Texas, with a seven-day rolling-average of 30 new cases per day.

However, testing in the initial stages of the pandemic in the United States was severely limited, and the reporting of relevant statistics by DSHS had not been well organized at that point.

On March 24, Abbott issued an executive order requiring hospitals to submit daily reports of hospital bed capacity to the state, but data from the DSHS on the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations only dates back to mid-April.

April: Cases in Texas remain steady as the lockdown continues.

A few weeks after the “15 Days to Slow the Spread” initiative was announced by the White House, the Trump administration provided updated guidelines that emphasized the following 30 days would be crucial in saving “1 million or more U.S. lives.”

Throughout late March and April, Texas remained in lockdown under Abbott’s orders. 

During that time, coronavirus testing expanded rapidly in the state, thanks largely to private labs which were processing the bulk of tests.

About 43,000 tests had been processed by the end of March, and by the end of April, that number had grown to 330,000.

DSHS also began to report the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients on a daily basis, which fluctuated day to day but averaged around 1,500 hospitalizations throughout the month.

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.

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.”

May: Texas begins its first phases of reopening without any spike in cases.

On May 1, Texas began the first phase of Abbott’s reopening plan, which ordered that retail stores and dine-in restaurants could resume operations, but must be limited to 25 percent of the maximum capacity.

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.

Despite warnings from “health experts” frequently cited in the media who said that Texas was reopening too soon and would face a surge of coronavirus cases, there was no widespread surge throughout the month.

Toward the end of May, protests over the death of George Floyd erupted across the state and country, with enormous crowds gathering in the streets of urban Texas.

June: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise in Texas, and Abbott scales back reopening.

At the beginning of June and just a few days after the protests had begun, Abbott announced his Phase III plan of reopening, which permitted businesses and bars to expand to 50 percent capacity on June 3.

The order also permitted restaurants to expand to 75 percent beginning on June 12.

But in the last few days of May and the beginning of June, the number of daily new coronavirus cases in the state began to climb.

In mid-June, though, cases and hospitalizations rallied upward at a much quicker pace.

At that time, Bexar County officials tested Abbott’s provision against face mask requirements, and on June 17, the governor said he approved of local governments imposing fines on businesses that do not require face masks.

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

In the week following the governor’s permission, other major counties in Texas followed suit and issued new mask mandates.

Cases and hospitalizations continued to skyrocket throughout the month of June.

July: Abbott issues a statewide mask mandate about three weeks before new cases begin declining.

On July 2, Abbott took his sanction of mask mandates a step further and issued a statewide mask mandate that made individuals liable for fines.

Cases and hospitalizations spread across the state at different times and intensities — with areas like Houston and the Rio Grande Valley facing greater strain on hospital capacities — but on the whole, Texas’ peak in cases was clearly in July.

The seven-day rolling-average of hospitalizations, cases, and fatalities all reached the highest point to date between July 20 and July 25, about three weeks after Abbott’s mask mandate and about a month after the most populous local counties had issued similar mandates on businesses.

At the end of July, new cases and hospitalizations across the state as reported by DSHS began declining.

August and September: Cases trend downward.

Throughout the month of August, the number of COVID-19 new and active cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities began declining.

Since his mask mandate in July, Abbott has not issued any other executive orders to either further lockdown or reopen the state.

With the case numbers trending back toward the levels they were at in early June, Abbott has suggested that he will take action soon, possibly to continue reopening the state.

“I said last month that Texas wouldn’t have anymore lockdowns — despite demands from mayors [and] county judges insisting on lockdowns,” tweeted Abbott. “Since my last orders in July, [COVID-19] numbers have declined — most importantly hospitalizations. I hope to provide updates next week about next steps.”

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Daniel Friend

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.