Gov. Greg Abbott issues amended order allowing police officers to enforce social distancing guidelines

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference March 18 at Arlington's Office of Emergency Management. Abbott announced additional COVID-19 care site in Dallas. 

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an amended order on social distancing guidelines Tuesday that allows law enforcement officials to enforce them with fines or jail time.

The order takes the place of his previous order on social distancing guidelines that was set to expire April 3. The new order will remain in effect from 12:01 a.m. April 2 to April 30.

This order establishes guidelines for essential services and activities, extends school closures to May 4 and renews previous orders restricting drinking or eating at bars, restaurants and food courts and minimizing social gatherings.

The order also includes religious services conducted in churches, congregations and houses of worship as an essential service.

A violation of the order is punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, confinement in jail for up to 180 days or both, according to the order.

In addition to that, anyone who violates the order can be placed in quarantine, Abbott said. The order also gives local jurisdictions the power to impose stricter standards not mentioned in the order.

The order comes after President Donald Trump extended his social distancing guidelines to April 30 on Sunday and warned that COVID-19 related death rates in the country would likely peak in two weeks.

In a press conference Tuesday, coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx said the projected number of deaths in the country could be between 100,000 and 200,000 if social distancing guidelines are used. The number could be between 1.5 and 2.2 million if they aren’t.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, said Americans should be prepared for 100,000 deaths. If the virus doesn’t spread in other cities as it has in New Jersey and New York, this number could be lower, he said.

Essential activities are allowed so long as proper social distancing protocols are observed, Abbott said. The order also states that physical activity such as jogging, biking, hunting and fishing are allowed, he said.

“By staying at home, by reducing personal interactions, you are saving lives,” Abbott said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Texas is at a low per capita death rate compared to other places in the country because Texans have used social distancing practices.

“[This] has worked to date because 29 million Texans have taken it to heart, and we are standing and working together,” Patrick said.

As of noon Tuesday, 42,922 Texans have tested for COVID-19 and 3,266 have confirmed positive, Abbott said. One hundred and twenty-two counties out of the 254 counties in Texas have reported at least one case of COVID-19.

Of the hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients, only 2.4% are in use.

Currently, the state has a total of 41 deaths related to COVID-19, Abbott said.

Most of the numbers come before social distancing practices were observed, he said.

@spencerbrewer10

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