AUSTIN, Texas - Austin is among 19 hospital regions in Texas where several businesses will be able to expand to 75% capacity.
Gov. Greg Abbott made the announcement Thursday because of the current count of active COVID-19 cases. “The number of new cases and number of hospitalizations have been cut by more than two-thirds,” said Abbott in a press conference.
Businesses in three regional COVID-19 hotspots in South Texas between Victoria and Brownsville will not be allowed to expand.
For the regions getting the green-light, expansion is conditional. Hospitalization rates must be at less than 15% for seven straight days. “Hospitalizations is the most important information about the severity of Covid in any particular region,” said Abbott.
The types of businesses allowed to expand include:
- Retail stores
- Office buildings
- Manufacturing facilities
- Gyms and exercise classes
- Museums and libraries
Elective surgeries will also be allowed to resume. However, a spike in cases will bring a reversal. “The thing that the summer taught us was the risk, the danger, the devastation, the destruction, the loss of life that COVID-19 can cause,” DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, MD said.
Nursing homes and senior living facilities will also be allowed to start visitations, but only if there are no active cases of the virus and social distancing guidelines are followed.
“And today is a great day because we are taking another major step to more freedom and openness in Texas, we are experiencing the things that make us happy and we have proven we can experience all of that when we simply do minor things like everyone in this room is doing wearing a face covering,” said Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
The National Federation of Independent Business issued a statement praising the expansion decision. “Governor Abbott’s decision to let more businesses reopen at 75% of occupancy is the kind of commonsense response to recent trends that gives our members hope,” stated NFIB State Director Annie Spilman.
But Texas Democrats questioned the governor’s COVID-19 number crunching. “We have him on record eight different times producing flawed data that he wants to sell to local authorities and now they’re supposed to just trust him, hey all is OK you should trust me,” said deputy communications director Ryan Poppe.
The plan according to the governor is not about stamping out COVID-19 but about learning how to manage life with it.
Bars are not part of the expansion announcement. Those that were allowed to modify their operations in August to act more like restaurants will be able to expand the 75% capacity.
“I know a lot of bar owners who have lost their business and it’s really sad to see that,” said Ashley Efta, who manages the Sunset Bar & Grill in Cedar Park. The recent re-opening has not recouped what they’ve lost. “We are down about five months of income for the year we need to get the business going again and getting the customers to readjust sitting, follow social distancing, wearing a mask."
A lot has changed since January. Now along with beer and bottles of whiskey, you’ll find disinfectant and plexiglass.
Not following the rules will have consequences. “Remember, if restaurants are not following those protocols those restaurants can lose their license,” said Abbott.
The governor promised to continue to work with bar owners to try to find a reopening path for them.
Michael Klein, founder and President of the Texas Bar and Nightlife Alliance (TBNA), released the following statement in response to Abbott's announcement:
"Governor Abbott's actions today are unacceptable. 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.
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.
For months, we've been told that Anti-Business Abbott needs to see sustained positivity rates below 10% and improvements on hospitalizations for bars to be given a chance at reopening. Texas delivered. But he has not acted on this promise and it is a death sentence for thousands of small businesses.
We have yet to receive any feedback from the state on the TBNA industry-supported plan for reopening all bars immediately. Our alliance has worked tirelessly to come up with a plan to reopen our businesses and keep our customers safe, which is more stringent than what is required for retail and food service that now are at 75% capacity indoors.
Despite our best efforts and intentions, we have not received a path forward and there appears to be no end in sight. The unilateral decision today has destroyed the lives of generations of hard-working Texans."
The governor also announced that several million new rapid response test kits are also on the way to Texas.
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.