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On April 27, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott announced the first phase of the State of Texas’ plan to safely and strategically open Texas while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Phase I will begin Friday, May 1, 2020  and continue until at least May 18, 2020. Under Phase I, certain services and activities will be allowed to open with limited occupancy, and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has issued minimum standard health protocols for all businesses and individuals to follow.

Executive Order GA-18

By way of Executive Order GA-18, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls are permitted to reopen on Friday, May 1, 2020. These services must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy. Within shopping malls, the food-court dining areas, play areas and interactive displays and settings must remain closed.

All museums and libraries may open under the same 25% occupancy limitation, but interactive areas of museums must remain closed. State libraries and museums will open by May 1, 2020, and local public museums and libraries may reopen, only if permitted by the local government. Single-person offices may reopen as well.

Churches and places of worship remain open. Outdoor sports are allowed to resume so long as no more than four participants are playing together at one time. Certain social distancing practices must also be followed. Local government operations, including county and municipal government operations relating to permitting, recordation, and document-filing services, may reopen as determined by the local government.

Essential services such as farmers and ranchers, grocery and drug stores, banks and gas stations will continue to operate. Public swimming pools, bars, gyms, cosmetology salons, massage establishments, interactive amusement venues, such as bowling alleys and video arcades, and tattoo and piercing studios will remain closed through Phase I. Nursing homes, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities must remain closed to visitors unless to provide critical assistance.

The Governor’s Report to Open Texas

The Governor’s announcement is accompanied by “Texans Helping Texans: The Governor’s Report to Open Texas.” This detailed report outlines the new protocols, guidance and recommendations for Texans to follow under Phase I. It also includes a series of “Open Texas Checklists” that outline DSHS’ minimum standard health protocols for all individuals, employers and employees. For your convenience, we have included the Checklist for All Employers below.

Checklist for All Employers

In accordance with Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-18, the following are the minimum standard health protocols for all businesses choosing to operate in Texas. This includes those businesses already operating as an “essential business”, as well as those businesses now being permitted to operate pursuant to GA-18. Please bear in mind that employers are encouraged to adopt additional protocols consistent with their specific needs and circumstances to help protect the health and safety of all employees and customers.

Health Protocols for Your Employees

  • Train all employees on appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • Screen employees before coming into the business:
    • Send home any employee who has any of the following new or worsening signs or symptoms of possible COVID-19:
      • Cough
      • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
      • Chills
      • Repeated shaking with chills
      • Muscle pain
      • Headache
      • Sore throat
      • Loss of taste or smell
      • Feeling feverish or a measured temperature 100 degrees or above
      • Known or close contact with a person who has been confirmed to have COVID-19
    • Do not allow employees with the new or worsening signs or symptoms listed above to return to work until:
      • In the case of an employee diagnosed with COVID-19, the individual may return to work when all three of the following criteria are met:
        • At least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications;
        • Individual has improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g. cough, shortness of breath); and
        • At least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
      • In the case of an employee with symptoms that could be COVID-19 that has not been evaluated by a medical professional or tested for COVID-19, the individual is assumed to have COVID-19 and may not return to work until the individual has completed the same three-step criteria above.
      • If the employee has symptoms that could be COVID-19 and wants to return to work before completing the above self-isolation period, the individual must obtain a medical professional’s note clearing the individual for return based on an alternative diagnosis.
    • Do not allow an employee with known close contact to a person who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19 to return to work until the end of the 14 day self-quarantine period from the last date of exposure (with an exception granted for healthcare workers and critical infrastructure workers).
  • Have employees wash or sanitize their hands upon entering the business.
  • Have employees maintain at least 6 feet separation from other individuals. If such distancing is not feasible, other measures such as face covering, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, cleanliness and sanitation should be rigorously practices.
  • If an employer provides a meal for employees, employers are recommended to have the meal individually packed for each employee.
  • Consistent with the actions taken by many employers across the state, consider having all employees wear cloth face coverings (over the nose and mouth). If available, employees should consider wearing non-medical grade face masks.

Health Protocols for your Facilities

  • Regularly and frequently clean and disinfect any regularly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, tables, chairs and restrooms.
  • Disinfect any items that come into contact with customers.
  • Make hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectant readily available to employees and customers.
  • Place readily visible signage at the business to remind everyone of best hygiene practices.

The Governor’s Report also contains industry-specific protocols for retailers, restaurants, movie theaters, museums and libraries, single person offices, and counties with less than 5 confirmed COVID-19. The full Governor’s Report to Reopen Texas, as well as these industry specific checklists can be found at:


Please note, public health guidance cannot anticipate every unique situation. Employers should stay informed and take actions based on common sense and wise judgment that will protect health and support economic revitalization. Employers should also be mindful of federal and state employment laws as well as workplace safety standards.

Article by Christine Vizcaino

NOTE: This article was updated on April 28, 2020. Because the COVID-19 situation is dynamic, with new governmental measures each day, consult with counsel for the latest developments and updated guidance on this topic.