Texas Governor Greg Abbott modified his COVID-19 executive orders on Thursday, effectively setting free a woman jailed for refusing to close her business. Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther is serving a seven-day jail sentence for violating statewide stay-at-home orders. She reopened her business nearly two weeks ago and publicly tore up a cease-and-desist letter ordering her to close.

Abbott modified his orders to eliminate confinement as a punishment, and specifically named Luther in his announcement. The modifications are being applied retroactively to April 2, according to a press release from his office.

“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott said in the release. “That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order.”

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Shelley Luther CBS DFW

Abbott said the order “supersedes local orders and if correctly applied should free Shelley Luther.” 

He added that “it may also ensure” the release of Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata, who were arrested in Laredo, Texas, for allegedly advertising and providing cosmetic services inside their homes. 

“As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place,” he said. 

The announcement followed a statement from the governor on Wednesday in which he voiced agreement with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who called for Luther’s “immediate release.” Paxton said he believed the judge that sentenced Luther was abusing his authority, and that her arrest seemed like a “political stunt.” Abbott joined the Attorney General “in disagreeing with the excessive action by the Dallas Judge.” The governor said arresting Texans for non-compliance “should always be the last available option.” “Compliance with executive orders during this pandemic is important to ensure public safety; however, surely there are less restrictive means to achieving that goal than jailing a Texas mother,” Abbott said. 

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Other officials have backed Luther. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said he would cover a fine owed she owed, and a spokesperson for Patrick later confirmed he followed through on his pledge, CBS DFW reported.

Luther also found an ally in Alaska’s former governor. CBS DFW reported that Sarah Palin visited Luther’s salon on Wednesday, posing for pictures with the salon’s employees. 

The case has highlighted the tensions between people wanting to return to work and officials warning about the dangers of COVID-19. Texas recorded more than 2,000 coronavirus cases over May 2 and May 3 – the most the state has seen in a two-day period since the coronavirus crisis started.

As of Thursday, the state had 15,852 active coronavirus cases. Dallas County had the second highest number of cases with 4,623, according to the state’s department of health. Over 1,700 people are currently in the hospital due to the disease, and 948 deaths have been reported. 

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