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Texas Faces A Spike In The Coronavirus Cases At Meatpacking Plants

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Texas, they're trying to figure out how to reopen businesses safely. Today the state's governor, Greg Abbott, unveiled new plans, the latest steps in the state's gradual return to something that resembles normal. But today's announcement, as Mallory Falk from member station KERA reports, comes right after a spike in COVID-19 cases in the Texas panhandle.

MALLORY FALK, BYLINE: Tyler Nicholson stands in a large open warehouse filled with freshly sanitized workout equipment.

TYLER NICHOLSON: And then after class, they're going to sanitize it again.

FALK: Nicholson owns CrossFit 214, a boutique gym in East Dallas. He's welcoming fitness buffs back today after temporarily closing his doors on March 17. The gym can usually fit 140 people. But for now, Nicholson says, only 20 will be allowed in.

NICHOLSON: We could have more people in here, but we don't think it's the right thing to do. We think it would compromise people's comfort levels and, possibly, their safety.

FALK: Gov. Abbott has allowed businesses like Nicholson's to reopen gradually over the last two weeks. First came restaurants, malls and movie theaters. Next up - hair, nail and tanning salons; today gyms like CrossFit 214. Businesses can only operate at reduced capacities and must take other safety precautions. But the latest round of reopenings comes on the heels of sobering news. On Saturday, Texas saw a huge spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases - 1,801 new cases to be exact, the highest single-day number since the outbreak began. More than 700 were in Amarillo, where there's been a cluster of cases at meatpacking plants.

GINGER NELSON: We had been waiting for that jump in numbers.

FALK: Ginger Nelson is Amarillo's mayor. She says Gov. Abbott sent a surge response team to the region to test meatpacking workers.

NELSON: That jump was directly tied to extra testing.

FALK: It's hard to tell how much of the state's gradual reopening is affecting the spread of COVID-19. There's often a two-week lag before symptoms show up. But Texas has fallen short of Abbott's goal to reach 30,000 tests per day. Still, the Republican governor is giving the go-ahead to more businesses. At today's press conference, he said child care facilities can open immediately and bars can reopen at 25% capacity on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: From Day 1, our mission has been to use data and doctors to open Texas in a safe and responsible way that contains the spread of COVID-19.

FALK: Abbott did exempt Amarillo from the new timeline, as well as El Paso. Some local leaders there have said the border city isn't ready to reopen.

For NPR News, I'm Mallory Falk in El Paso. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.