Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he is extending the state’s social distancing mandate through the end of April and said Texas schools will remain closed through at least May 4.


At a news conference at the Capitol Tuesday, Abbott also advised churches to continue to hold services either virtually or while respecting social distancing requirements and suggested drive-in services as an Easter alternative.


Abbott declined to impose a statewide shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order because, he said, taken literally, that would mean people could not leave their homes under any circumstances. He issued a list of essential services that can carry on and essential activities that are permissible.


“This is not a stay-at-home strategy,” Abbott said.


He said that going to the grocery store and continuing to walk or bike or otherwise get healthful exercise are among permitted activities, but that exercise should be done alone.


The executive order notes that it “does not prohibit people from accessing essential services or engaging in essential daily activities, such as going to the grocery store or gas station, providing or obtaining other essential services, visiting parks, hunting or fishing, or engaging in physical activity like jogging or bicycling, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID- 19 and to minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.


He said that going to the grocery store and continuing to walk or bike or otherwise get healthful exercise are among permitted activities, but that exercise should be done alone.


The essential services are: Health care and public health, law enforcement and public safety and other first responders, good and agriculture, energy, waste and wastewater, transportation and logistics, pubic works and infrastructure support services, communications and information technology, other community or government-based operations and essential function, critical manufacturing, hazardous materials, financial services, chemical, defense industrial base, commercial facilities, residential/shelter facilities and services and hygiene products and services.


“As the corina virus has spread across the land, at a time when lives are literally at risk, Texans continue to rise to the occasion.


The efforts of Texans across the entire state have slowed the spread of the coronavirus. But, as the president has made clear, we are not yet done with our response. We cannot forfeit the gains we have already made by cutting short our task. We have come too far to falter now.“


In declining to issue a statewide shelter-in place order a week ago Sunday, while encouraging local officials to do it on their own, Abbott said, “What may be right for places like the large urban areas may not be right at this particular point in time for the more than 200 counties that have zero cases of COVID-19,” the disease caused by the virus.


Since then, many rural counties have reported cases. Nearly half of the state’s 254 counties are now home to people with confirmed cases.


According to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, as of mid-day Tuesday, 79 of the state’s 254 counties have issued their own version of a stay-at-home order covering 86% of the state’s population. When you add in cities located in counties without orders that have issued their own orders, including Lubbock, Abilene, Odessa and the portion of Amarillo in Randall County, that number rises to 88%.


Jones said the largest concentrations of Texans not under an order are in the counties of Midland, Guadalupe (except for Seguin and New Braunfels), Grayson (except for Denison) and Victoria.


Jones said the next tier of population centers without county orders are in Coryell, Walker, Maverick and Anderson counties.


The governor was at the 2 p.m. press conference by Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.