On June 3, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued the latest in a series of executive orders gradually loosening Coronavirus-related restrictions on Texas businesses.
The executive order, GA-26, increases the maximum occupancy for most businesses whose operations were restricted by prior executive orders, with most workplaces now permitted to operate with at least 50% occupancy. Notably, there is no occupancy limit for essential activities listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 3.1. Similarly, there is no occupancy limit for religious services, local government operations (including county and municipal governmental operations relating to licenses), or childcare services.
Additional takeaways from GA-26 include:
- For non-CISA 3.1 manufacturing and office workplaces, workers are included in the 50% occupancy limitation. Other workplaces may exclude workers from the 50% occupancy calculation.
- As he has done in previous executive orders, Abbott gave the state’s smallest counties permission to move more quickly towards full reopening. On June 12, any business in a county with 10 or fewer active cases of COVID-19 that was previously subject to a 50% capacity limit can increase its capacity to 75%.
- The 50% occupancy limit does not apply to outdoor areas, events, or establishments, with limited exceptions, including swimming pools, water parks, zoos, and museums.
- The 50% occupancy limit does not apply to establishments that operate with at least six feet between their work stations, including hair salons, nail salons, and massage establishments.
- Dine-in restaurants were already permitted to be open at 50% capacity. As of June 12, they may ramp up their capacities to 75%. Indoor bars, which were previously capped at 25% capacity, may immediately increase their occupancy up to 50%, as long as customers remain seated.
- For the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, public schools may resume operations for the summer as provided by, and under the minimum standard health protocols found in, guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Schools may conduct graduation ceremonies consistent with the minimum standard health protocols found in guidance issued by the TEA.
- All existing state executive orders relating to COVID-19 are amended to eliminate confinement in jail as an available penalty for violating the executive orders.
Executive Order GA-26 states that people should not gather in groups larger than ten and should maintain six feet of social distancing from those not in their group. The Governor continues to encourage people over the age of 65 to stay home as much as possible; to maintain appropriate distance from any member of the household who has been out of the residence in the previous 14 days, and, if leaving the home, to implement social distancing and to practice good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation. 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. More information about minimum standard health protocols recommended by DSHS can be found at DSHS.State.TX.us/Coronavirus. Please contact an attorney at Jackson Walker for any additional guidance or information.
GA-26’s Impact on Prior Orders
GA-26 supersedes GA-23 (issued May 18, 2020, related to the expanded opening of Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster).
By its express terms, GA-26 does not supersede the following prior orders of the governor:
- GA-10 (issued on March 24, 2020): Requiring daily reporting from hospitals of COVID-19 information and data
- GA-13 (issued on March 29, 2020): Suspending certain provisions of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure to reduce the jail population and prevent the spread of COVID-19
- GA-17 (issued on April 17, 2020): Establishing the Strike Force to Open Texas
- GA-19 (issued on April 27, 2020): Regarding hospital operations and reserved space for treatment of COVID-19 patients
- GA-20 (issued April 27, 2020): Expanding travel without restrictions; notably the travel limitations remaining following GA-20 were lifted by GA-24
- GA-24 (issued May 21, 2020): Terminating previous air travel restrictions with regard to certain U.S. cities and states
- GA-25 (issued May 22, 2020): Closing county and municipal jails to in-person visitation, with exceptions for visits by attorneys meeting with clients and religious leaders or members of the clergy
GA-26 will remain in effect until it is modified, amended, rescinded, or superseded by the governor..
Brad Nitschke is a partner in Jackson Walker’s Trial and Investigations & White Collar Defense practices. In addition to representing business and healthcare clients in litigation from demand through trial, Brad has particular experience in investigations and crisis response involving allegations of sexual misconduct, financial impropriety, and health care fraud and abuse.
Kate Goodrich is a governmental affairs consultant in Jackson Walker’s Austin office. She started her career as a federally registered lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and grew to become a senior advisor to legislators at the Texas Capitol. Kate’s background in state and federal government gives her an in-depth and practical knowledge of the legislative and appropriations processes. She is a respected member of the governmental affairs community and has forged deep relationships at the Capitol and beyond. Kate graduated from the University of Texas School of Law and is licensed to practice law in the state of Texas.
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