Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday will announce sweeping changes that will align state and local precautionary measures against the COVID-19 virus.
“We’re confident that the state will begin adopting universal measures tomorrow,” New Braunfels Mayor Barron Casteel said following Abbott’s hour-long statewide teleconference with state and local officials Wednesday evening.
Casteel said Abbott plans his announcement for noon on Thursday.
“This will be a statewide, universal set of rules,” Casteel said. “It’s so that one place five miles from New Braunfels will have the same rules as other areas throughout the state. Because of the travel throughout our area, setting universal rules are the best way for an effective response against COVID-19 throughout the state.”
Abbott’s move comes after mayors and governors across the country have shut down bars and closed schools, with President Donald Trump encouraging citizens to avoid groups larger than 10 people. Rapidly across the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic is thrusting leaders at every level into hard decisions about where people can go, and how many at a time.
“Typically, we empower the local elected officials to be in charge because they know more than anybody else does,” Abbott said. “But it’s becoming increasingly clear this is not just statewide in scope, is not just nationwide in scope. It’s worldwide in scope.”
Abbott, the chief executive in a state of 29 million people, is now joining them. Texas has reported more than 80 cases of the virus and three deaths related to the virus that causes COVID-19. He deferred decisions on school and business closures to local authorities, which created a patchwork of differing public health restrictions throughout the state.
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Casteel wouldn’t say what Abbott might announce but hinted changes — such as closing indoor traffic in bars and restaurants and restrict gatherings of 50 people or more — that would align New Braunfels and Comal County closer to laws already in place in San Antonio and Austin.
“Most of our restaurants and theaters are already shutting down voluntarily,” Casteel said, “But the universal rules will affect gymnasiums and more after 2 p.m. tomorrow.”
Casteel said other locals included in Abbott’s call were County Judge Sherman Krause; Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce President Michael Meek; New Braunfels Utilities CEO Ian Taylor and representatives from Comal and New Braunfels independent school districts.
The mayor said the city and county are in the process of meshing their combined rules with the new state edicts, and all agree Thursday’s blanket measure is preferable to what exists now.
“Most of what the governor will cover the entire state, but we’ll have things we’ll include for our own locale,” Casteel said. “We’re going to work in tandem with Comal County to assure we have the same (rules) moving forward.”
Casteel implied the new rules would likely be in effect for two weeks to start, then extended if needed. He said the numbers of cases and deaths are rising – and universal rules will be a key component toward stemming the tide.
“This is a rapidly evolving event, and we want to get it right,” he said. “It’s intended to flatten the curve statewide – not just in San Antonio and Austin or Houston but statewide.
“Having one set of rules will put an end to all of the confusion – and the governor made it clear that we need to do it as a state.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report