"The goal of Texas is to get back to work in a safe fashion": Speaker Bonnen on plans to "re-open Texas"

On Wednesday, Texas acted on plans to loosen restrictions on elective surgeries. On Friday, retail to-go will be allowed in the state, and on Monday restrictions on state parks will be loosened. 

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott is also expected to unveil additional plans for re-opening the state. On Wednesday he tweeted that Texans could soon see “hair salons, and shopping inside stores.” FOX 7 Austin spoke with Speaker Dennis Bonnen of the Texas House of Representatives about what is to come. 

“The goal of the governor and the goal of Texas is to get back to work in a safe fashion. We want as many of our Texas businesses back in business and serving Texans and driving our economy forward.” Bonnen told FOX 7 Austin.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott says order outlining next steps to reopen economy will be released Monday

Bonnen, who is part of the strikeforce to “open Texas,” says “the reality is there’s a long time between today and Monday.” He pointed out that there are a number of medical experts on the strikeforce and that “there will be another discussion with them before any final decisions are made.” 

Still, some general decisions have already been made. For example, the state will allow more businesses to open in counties that have had greater success in avoiding COVID-19.

“One size does not fit all so certainly we’re going to have to take into consideration counties that have maybe had a harder time.” he said. 

RELATED: TIMELINE: Texas’ continued response to COVID-19 pandemic

State orders would overrule local orders. For example, if a county wanted to ban “shopping inside stores” and the state passes an order allowing it, Bonnen says stores in said county would have the option to allow customers to shop in their store. 

Bonnen acknowledged that some may be apprehensive to re-open the economy -- as Texas is behind in testing compared to many other U.S. states. But, he argues that Texas is behind in testing because it has been seen as a lesser priority to suppliers -- as the death rate has been relatively lower. It is that rate he asks people to look to instead when considering reopening the economy. 

“So we know that from looking at those data points and listening to the medical experts we are outperforming other states in the country in avoiding COVID-19 spread and having hotspots, so that is the opportunity that gives us to get our economy back going again," Bonnen said.

RELATED: FOX 7 Discussion: Texas House Speaker discusses Abbott's plan to reopen Texas economy

Over the past 35 days, Bonnen says the Texas Workforce Commission has processed “two years worth” of unemployment data.  

“The workforce commission has added hundreds of employees multiple new call centers creating almost a thousand new people to receive calls we are trying to respond to this unprecedented demand,” he explained. 

Like many states, Texas is not only battling financial uncertainty but political --- with Democrats and Republicans clashing over the idea of voting by mail in run-off elections. Bonnen says if it is possible he would be in favor of postponing them, as New York just did Wednesday with the presidential primary.

RELATED: Central Texas small businesses struggle due to COVID-19

“Texans deserve to know who's running for office, what they stand for, and ask them a question before they cast a ballot -- and until we get into that position, I don’t think there should be an election,” he said. 

Wednesday afternoon HHSC released data showing that approximately 38% of deaths that occurred in the state up to that point were nursing or assisted living facility residents. 

Bonnen says the facilities “are the most vulnerable," adding “They’re vulnerable in population and they’re vulnerable in how the facility operates. So, the state is working closely with those facilities to help them avoid any further outbreak and supporting them in any way of recovery.”


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