‘We’re really happy:’ Texas opens amid fears, lagging tests
HOUSTON (AP) — Raising a margarita during lunch at one of her favorite Tex-Mex spots, Lulu Salcido wasted no time celebrating Texas’ reopening Friday. “We’re really happy. Cheers!,” she said.
But others in Texas, including big-city leaders reading off new coronavirus deaths through face coverings, found little to celebrate as the state of nearly 30 million lifted stay-at-home orders and let every retailer and restaurant welcome customers back inside for the first time since early April. The reboot comes as Texas flirts with what could be its deadliest week of the outbreak, including 34 new fatalities announced Friday.
Testing also remains short of the 30,000-a-day that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott says will keep tabs on making sure the virus stays in check, although the state announced a sharp single-day uptick in tests just as stores and beaches were reopening.
“It’s impossible to pull a date out of thin air and say to the virus, ‘We’re ready for you to go away now,’” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat and the top county official in Houston. “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this work.”
Businesses were hardly bombarded on the fist day back.
In San Antonio, few people wandered through Ingram Park Mall, which includes several stores that are still choosing to remain shut. At CraftWay Kitchen near Dallas, co-owner Troy Cooper served a slow lunch crowd but said none of his employees balked at coming back over fears of getting infected.
A video posted to social media from Austin showed a park ranger getting shoved in a shallow part of a lake while instructing a crowd of mostly shirtless parkgoers to practice social distancing.
“I got you, man,” says someone in the video, which was shot Thursday, right before the ranger is pushed into the water. Laughter can be heard.
Austin police said a 25-year-old was arrested and charged with attempted assault on a public servant.
Like most governors, Abbott is taking a piecemeal approach to rolling back restrictions: Counties with fewer than five active cases of COVID-19 can reopen businesses at 50% capacity, but the majority of Texans live in places where capacity for now is limited to 25%. Abbott wants to further relax restrictions, including letting hair salons and gyms reopen, with a goal of mid-May, but health experts have expressed concerns over moving too fast.
Iowa, Utah and Oklahoma were among a handful of other states that are also easing restrictions and partially reopened Friday.
Texas is approaching nearly 30,000 cases and has reported more than 800 deaths linked to the disease, though the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
More than 120 people have died over the past three days in Texas, the worst stretch since the state’s first coronavirus case in March. Abbott has said he is looking at other metrics, including steady hospitalization rates and infection rates that have gone down.
At El Tiempo Cantina in Houston, a sign instructed diners to keep six feet apart and that parties could not be any larger than six people. Every server wore masks and gloves, and instead of the usual Friday lunch rush, few trickled through the doors early.
“It’s very weird for us. It’s kind of strange,” said Roxanne Martinez, a manager at the restaurant. “At least we’re glad we’re actually, finally, starting to get back to normal.”
Mone reported from Houston. Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas, journalist Tony Gutierrez in Plano, Texas, and journalist Eric Gay in San Antonio contributed to this report.