Retail stores, restaurants, gyms, office buildings, museums and libraries in regions where COVID-19 hospitalizations are under control can open at 75% capacity starting Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Thursday. Hospitals in these areas can resume elective surgeries immediately, he said.
Bars that have not been reclassified as restaurants can't reopen yet, Abbott said, because they are still seen as “COVID-spreading locations.” He said officials are looking for ways to allow them to open safely.
“We need to see COVID numbers continue to be contained," he said, "and we need to work with the bars on effective strategies that will ensure that when they do open, the possibility of spread of COVID is contained."
The governor announced the new orders as cases and hospitalizations have been trending downward in the state. Three regions with high levels of hospitalizations must hold off on the expanded reopenings for now: the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Victoria.
Abbott said the drop in cases in recent weeks is the result of Texans taking the pandemic seriously by wearing masks in public, washing hands and social distancing – practices he says need to continue.
“Those safe practices remain the best defense against COVID until vaccines arrive in the coming months,” he said. “These practices are particularly important now that students are returning to schools and colleges, now that fans are returning to sporting events and now that flu season is upon us.”
The governor also said nursing home facilities and other long-term care centers in regions where hospitalizations are under control can reopen for visitors next Thursday. To do that, though, the facilities must comply with health protocols and there can’t be a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility.
Officials say a key metric in determining the level of COVID-19 spread in an area is the number of coronavirus hospitalizations – a metric Abbott is using to determine what regions can expand business capacity.
“When COVID hospitalizations are high, it means that the spread of COVID is excessive in a particular region and that corrective action is needed,” Abbott said. “When hospitalizations are low, it means that COVID is better contained in that region and businesses can reopen.”
If COVID-19 hospitalizations make up less than 15% of total hospitalizations for seven days in a row, the region is safe enough to reopen more businesses, Abbott said. Right now, three of 22 hospital regions in Texas – the RGV, Laredo and Victoria – don’t meet that threshold and remain in the “danger zone.”
“That level of COVID hospitalizations shows that COVID is still spreading too much for those regions to be able to expand their openings so we will continue to work with those regions to help them better contain their COVID spread as well as to help them lower their hospitalization rates,” Abbott said. “The other 19 regions are able to open at the expanded capacity announced today.”
This story has been updated.
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