Texas Governor Greg Abbott will allow restaurants and other businesses across the state to expand their capacity, lifting some restrictions put in place to contain the pandemic. At a news conference on Thursday, September 17, Abbott cited declines in hospital stay rates due to COVID-19 in 19 out of 22 hospital regions to justify its decision.
Starting Monday September 21st, retail stores, restaurants, offices, manufacturing facilities, museums, libraries and gyms are allowed in the 19 regions that include the entire state with the exception of Victoria, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.
Bars remain closed.
In addition, nursing homes and other residential facilities will be open for visits by “essential carers” beginning September 24, subject to outbreak prevention provisions. Hospitals can resume elective surgery immediately.
Abbott stressed that Texas’s success in lowering the state’s hospital stay rate by two-thirds from its July peak was due to individuals taking responsibility for following health protocols such as hand washing, adequate social distancing and wearing a mask in public take over. This is the first capacity increase since Abbott slowed the state’s opening on June 26 by closing bars and reducing restaurants to 50 percent capacity. On July 2, he issued a nationwide mask ordinance.
“Absorbing COVID is challenging without vaccines,” Abbott said. “The Texans have shown that they are up to the challenge. . . We are now armed with the personal safety standards and medical advances we may contain COVID until more treatments and vaccines are available. “
The governor also warned of those who want the entire state to be fully reopened. “The fact is that COVID still exists and Texans remain vulnerable,” he said.
Abbott also agreed to work with bar owners to develop procedures that will allow them to reopen safely, saying, “We are focused on finding ways to open them.”
Some bars have reopened by classifying themselves as restaurants. Abbott noted that bars that did this must follow certain guidelines that apply to all restaurants – including the obligation on customers to remain seated except when going to the bathroom or getting on and off – and those who do Violating these regulations runs the risk of losing their licenses to sell alcohol.
Texas has nearly 70,000 active cases of COVID-19 with more than 3,200 hospitalizations nationwide. The state has reported more than 14,000 deaths from the virus.