Statewide, Texas newspapers have different interpretations of Abbott’s order


While the number of cases of COVID-19 climbed higher on Tuesday, with nearly half of Texas counties reporting at least one case of coronavirus, Governor Greg Abbott announced an “essential services” Executive Order that stated that, “every person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services, minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.”

However, Abbott bristled at the suggestion that this was a “stay-at-home” order, saying, “This is not a stay-at-home strategy. This is a standard that is based on essential services and essential activities.”

Perhaps due to the verbal gymnastics used by the governor when explaining his order, newspapers in various parts of the state interpreted the impact of the order differently. Here is a sampling of some of the explanations offered by various publications across the state, including the headline and lede.

  • Dallas Morning News — “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott allows only ‘essential services’ statewide, closes schools until May 4” — With confirmed coronavirus cases climbing and political pressure mounting, Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced that only “essential services” could remain open across Texas in a strategy many counties and cities had already adopted to slow the spread of the virus.
  • Fort Worth Star-Telegram — “Abbott lists ‘essential’ services, extends school closures to May” — Gov. Greg Abbott issued a new executive order Tuesday that requires Texans to stay home through April and abide by social distancing measures when accessing services deemed “essential” by the state.
  • Austin American-Statesman — “Abbott issues statewide stay-at-home order, allows religious services” — Gov. Greg Abbott Tuesday issued what amounts to a statewide stay-at-home order, without calling it that, while extending the state’s social distancing mandate through the end of April and keeping Texas classrooms closed through at least May 4.
  • San Antonio Express-News — “Gov. Abbott orders schools closed until May 4, limited religious gatherings allowed” — Gov. Greg Abbott shut down schools until at least May 4 and issued a statewide order Tuesday that restricts operations of some businesses as the state continues to battle the growing pandemic.
  • Kerrville Daily Times — “Coronavirus rears its head in Kerrville just as Texas ramps up restrictions” — The inevitable creep of the coronavirus pandemic finally made its way into Kerrville on Tuesday as a Peterson Health employee became the first to test positive for COVID-19.
  • Hill Country Community Journal — “Abbott issues executive order, implements statewide ‘Essential Services And Activities Protocols’” — Gov. Greg Abbott extended social distancing guidelines through April 30 and announced Texas schools will remain closed until at least May 4.

As you can see, various newspapers from around the state used vastly different language to characterize the scope and impact of the executive order, with some publications even neglecting to mention the restrictions in the headline or lede sentence.

What will Texans make of the order with such varying degrees of seriousness and import from their daily newspapers? What does the order actually do? Perhaps Abbott needs to clarify his intentions.