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Central Texas restaurants, businesses may expand capacity effective Monday

Gov. Greg Abbott announced the new guidelines Thursday.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced the new guidelines Thursday.(KWTX)
Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 1:14 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 17, 2020 at 7:30 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) - Central Texas restaurants, businesses, manufacturing facilities, museums and libraries may begin to operate at 75% capacity Monday, but bars must remain closed under new guidelines Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday.

Hospitals in the region may resume elective procedures, as well.

Abbott’s bar closure order remains in effect, however, and the Texas Bar and Nightlife Alliance took issue with Abbott’s decision to keep bars closed.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that a bar that serves ‘enough’ food is now allowed to open to 75% capacity, but regular neighborhood bars without the means to obtain new government permits or offer food items cannot open their doors at all,” the group’s president and founder, Michael Klein, said in a press release.

“At his hand alone, bar owners are having their livelihoods destroyed and are losing everything without being given a chance at reopening in a safe and responsible manner. By his own admission, different regions of the state should be treated differently based on their current battle against COVID-19, yet bars are shut down everywhere regardless of the local data.”

The reopening guidelines announced Thursday are predicated on hospitalizations in each of the 22 Trauma Service Areas in the state.

If COVID-19 hospitalizations are less than 15% of all hospitalizations for seven consecutive days in a given region, restrictions may be eased. If COVID-19 hospitalizations are more than 15% of all hospitalizations for seven consecutive days, a course correction may be required, Abbott said.

The hospitalization rate in the region that includes Bell, Coryell, Hamilton, Lampasas, Milam and Mills counties stood at 4.7% Thursday and the rate in the region that includes McLennan, Bosque, Falls, Hill and Limestone counties was 9.5%.

The regions that include Freestone, Leon, Navarro and San Saba counties also have rates below 15%.

Just three of the 22 regions, Laredo, Victoria and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, have rates higher than 15%.

Nursing homes, assisted living centers and State Supported Living Centers in areas where COVID-19 hospitalizations are less than 15% may reopen for visitation with certain health protocols in place effective Sept. 24.

“It is critical to the health of residents that we provide opportunities wherever possible for families to reunite, while continuing to take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of disease,” Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young said.

“Safely visiting with family and friends is the best medicine and most reassuring act we can provide for our most fragile Texans during these challenging times.”

Residents may designate as many as two “essential family caregivers” whom facilities must train on the use of personal protective equipment and other infection control officers before they’re permitted to enter facilities and the residents' rooms one at a time for scheduled visits using proper protective equipment.

Caregivers must have tested negative for the virus within 14 days before the visit.

Other visitors may be allowed to schedule indoor visits with the use of plexiglass barriers and without contact.

In order for the process to work, Abbott said, Texans must continue to practice regular hand washing, must observe social distancing guidelines, must wear masks and must stay home if sick.

The process will be aided by the delivery of millions of rapid 15-minute COVID-19 tests a month, he said.

Democrats, however, accused Abbott of putting politics ahead of public health.

“Since Abbott’s last press conference, more than 13,000 Texans have died, and more than 600,000 have contracted the virus. Texans need leaders who listen to doctors and experts, not buckle to pressure from right-wing lobbyists and donors,” state Democratic Party Chairman Manny Garcia said in a statement.

“We all want our economy to recover, jobs of Texans, and our businesses to succeed. The only way that will happen is if workers are safe and consumers have confidence in our future.”

The statewide stay at home order Abbott issued in March to stem the spread of the virus in the state expired at midnight on April 30, and on May 1, retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums and libraries were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity in the first phase of a three-phase plan to restart the state’s economy.

Abbott announced on May 18 that restaurants could expand to 50% of capacity and bars could reopen at 25% capacity on May 22 under the second phase of the plan and on June 3 announced restaurants could expand to 75% capacity effective June 12 under the plan’s third phase.

But two weeks later, on June 26, after a spike in new cases and one of the highest positivity rates in the country, he issued an order shutting down bars, scaling back restaurants to 50%.

The order, effective at noon the day it was issued also prohibited gatherings of more than 100 people with certain exceptions, unless a mayor of county judge grants approval. Businesses continued to operate at 50% occupancy.

Since then, the Texas curve has leveled out, although case counts and deaths continue to increase.

At least 674,772 cases have been confirmed in the state and 69,457 of them were active Wednesday while 590,837 patients have recovered.

At least 3,249 patients were hospitalized statewide Wednesday, down slightly from Tuesday’s total, and in the two Trauma Service Areas that cover most of Central Texas, at least 75 were in hospitals, up seven from Tuesday.

Almost 5.3 million tests have been administered in Texas.

The Lab Reported positivity rate was 8.86% Wednesday, down slightly from 8.98% Tuesday.

Three Texas counties still remain free of the virus.

Copyright 2020 KWTX. All rights reserved.

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