With nearly eight months of COVID-19 pandemic response activity to meet the public health and safety challenges and its unprecedented and staggering impact on Texas economy, the end of August and most of September were relatively uneventful regarding governmental actions. The federal government continues to disagree on the specifics of a second CARES Act relief funding program giving little hope of any additional relief until after the November elections.
In late September, Governor Greg Abbott, in his first scheduled update on the state’s COVID-19 response, issued Executive Order, GA-30 expanding occupancy levels for restaurants, retail stores, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, gyms and exercise facilities and classes, museums and libraries. Also, GA-31 re-authorized elective surgeries for a majority of the state of Texas. The Governor also announced new guidance related to visitations at nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives returned from their August Recess; however, there continues to be a breakdown in negotiations for a second Cares Act relief package. Unless there is significant political movement, many are predicting that some type of federal aid to relieve the negative economic impacts of COVID-19 will not happen until after the November elections.
Government Relations continues to focus on advocating for the addition of travel-related provisions, including expanding eligibility of the Paycheck Protection Program to 501c(6) and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) of all sizes, the extension of the loan submission deadline, securing additional funds for Economic Development Administration Grants for DMOs, and a temporary travel tax credit.
On Sept. 16, the Federal Reserve announced the economy will shrink by 3.7% this year, an improved outlook over the 6.5% contraction initially projected in June. The Fed's outlook also indicated the unemployment rate would be 7.6%; lower than the 9.6% it saw three months ago.
The projections came alongside the Fed's closely watched policy statement that said it expects to keep interest rates near zero until the labor market improves. It also said the Fed won't move on rates until inflation rises to 2% and is on track to "moderately exceed" that level for a period of time.
Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell stated, "For the last 60 days or so, the economy has recovered faster than expected. That may continue or not, we just don’t know." Powell also said more fiscal support will "likely be needed". He added that both the Fed and private economic forecasters have another stimulus package baked into their forecasts. It's just a matter of "when and how much and what will be the contents," Powell said of expected action by Congress.
During September, the Governor renewed the statewide COVID-19 emergency declaration without issuing any new Executive Orders related to COVID-19 rules or restrictions. This renewed declaration provides for the state’s continued eligibility to draw down federal funds and other resources. More importantly, on Sept. 17 Abbott issued two new Executive Orders: GA-30, related to increasing business capacities across Texas, and GA-31, related to reauthorizing elective surgeries for a majority of Texas. A summary of each order is provided below:
Executive Order GA-30
Executive Order GA-30 expands certain businesses in 19 of 22 hospital regions of Texas. The key metric for determining which regions could expand their business capacities is the individual region’s current hospitalization rate; i.e., any hospital region where coronavirus hospitalizations are less than 15% of all hospitalizations. At this time, that metric excludes from this new executive order the regions of Laredo, Victoria and the lower Rio Grande Valley.
The following types of businesses were allowed to operate at 75% capacity beginning Sept. 21:
- In-store, non-Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) retail establishments.
- Dine-in restaurants (those that have less than 51% of gross receipts from the sale of alcohol, and whose customers eat or drink only while seated).
- Non-CISA office buildings.
- Non-CISA manufacturers.
- Museums and libraries.
- Gyms and exercise facilities and classes.
People may now visit nursing homes, state-supported living centers, assisted-living facilities or long-term care facilities.
Public schools may operate according to the minimum standard health protocols issued by the Texas Education Agency. Private institutions are strongly encouraged to establish and follow similar protocols.
There is no occupancy limit for the following business types – provided that they maintain six feet of distance between stations:
Cosmetology salons, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons/shops, and other establishments where licensed cosmetologists or barbers practice their trade.
Massage establishments and other facilities where licensed massage therapists or other persons licensed or otherwise authorized to practice under Chapter 455 of the Texas Occupations Code practice their trade.
Other personal-care and beauty services such as tanning salons, tattoo studios, piercing studios, hair removal services and hair loss treatment and growth services.
What remains limited:
- Amusement parks – 50%
- Outdoor gatherings in excess of 10 people that does not fall under the purview of any business listed above.
What remains closed:
- Bars – any establishments that hold a permit from the TABC and are not restaurants as defined above. However, they may continue to operate drive-thru, pickup, or delivery services.
- Commercial rafting or tubing services, including the rental of rafts or tubes and the transportation of individuals for the purpose of tubing or rafting.
Executive Order GA-31
Executive Order GA-31 allows hospital regions where coronavirus hospitalizations are less than 15% of all hospitalizations to resume elective surgeries and full services, provided that they retain at least 10% of its capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Complete information concerning the state’s COVID-19 response can be found at the following weblinks:
- Coronavirus Resources and Response
- Governor’s Strikeforce to Open Texas
- Texas Department of State Health Services
- Texas Division of Emergency Management
Finally, as the Texas Legislature moves closer to the start of the 87th Regular Legislative Session, Government Relations will continue to provide updated information related to legislatives operations, deadlines, issues, and any impacts to the travel and tourism industry.
On Sept. 16, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued a revised Executive Order, NW-15. The new county Executive Order follows Governor Abbott’s Executive Orders GA-30 and GA-31. We anticipate the City of San Antonio will issue a revised emergency health declaration that mirrors Abbott’s Executive Orders GA-30 and GA-31, soon.