Businesses will be allowed to increase capacity to 75 percent, but bars will remain closed for now, announced Gov. Greg Abbott at a Sept. 17 media conference in Austin. Bars across the nation are considered a hot spot for the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Abbott said in defending his decision. He added that he and other state officials will continue to work with the bar industry to find ways to safely reopen those establishments sometime in the future.
Restaurants, retail stores, offices, libraries, museums, gyms, and manufacturing facilities can expand from 50 percent occupancy to 75 percent as of Monday, Sept. 21 — with one caveat. The expanded capacity only applies to counties within Trauma Service Areas reporting less than a 15 percent hospitalization rate of COVID-19 patients for seven consecutive days.
Burnet, Llano, Blanco, and Travis counties are in TSA O, which has a COVID-19 patient hospitalization rate of below the 15 percent threshold. Counties not allowed to expand are mostly in the Rio Grande Valley.
The governor also announced new visitation guidance for eligible nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, intermediate care facilities, home and community-based service providers, and inpatient hospice starting Thursday, Sept. 24.
Under this rule, a long-term care resident can choose up to two essential caregivers, who will be trained to help safely meet the resident’s social, emotional, and physical needs. Essential caregivers will not have to maintain social distancing, but only one will be allowed in at a time.
Other general visitors at approved facilities will be allowed to have no-contact outdoor and open-window visits or indoor visits with the use of a plexiglass safety barrier.
According to Abbott, the state overall is reporting some of the lowest numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic first hit.
“The biggest reason is because Texans are taking COVID serious,” he said.
People are following health and safety recommendations such as wearing face coverings, washing their hands regularly, social distancing, and staying home when sick.
He added that slowing the spread of the virus protects people’s health and livelihoods. “Achieving both goals requires safe standards that contain COVID-19, emphasize protecting the most vulnerable, and establish clear metrics that the public can depend on,” Abbott said.
Though Abbott relaxed some of his previous rules, he emphasized this doesn’t mean COVID-19 is gone and that Texans can relax. Instead, he urged people to remain vigilant and continue to take the steps that have allowed the state to reopen this far.