AUSTIN, TX – On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the majority of Texas will be able to loosen previous coronavirus restrictions, which will also allow many businesses throughout the state to increase their current capacity levels to 75%, as soon as Monday September 21.
The standard Gov. Abbott unveiled applies to the 19 out of 22 hospital regions among the state where coronavirus patients make up less than 15% of all current hospitalizations.
In these 19 regions, businesses that have previously been open at 50% capacity will now be permitted to expand capacity levels to 75% which includes retail stores, restaurants and office buildings.
Hospitals in these regions will be allowed to offer normal elective procedures once more, and nursing homes can now reopen for visitations under certain standards.
However, there are three hospital regions excluded from the latest reopening stage which are the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Victoria regions.
Abbott announced these regions’ hospitalization levels are still “in the danger zone.”
At the same time, Abbott reiterated that the state of Texas was not quite ready to reopen bars just yet, noting that they are “nationally recognized as COVID-spreading locations.” He stressed, though, that the state is currently looking for ways to allow bars reopen safely in a timely manner.
Abbott unveiled the state's latest standard during his news conference at the Texas Capitol which served as Abbott’s first major announcement about the reopening process of Texas since early summer.
In late June, Abbott quickly shut down bars and ordered restaurants to scale capacity levels back to 50% as case numbers began to skyrocket across the state.
Just a few days later, Abbott issued a statewide mask mandate.
Sometime later, the state's key coronavirus metrics began to trend downward as active cases and hospitalization levels began to fall. These statistics include daily new cases, daily new deaths, hospitalizations and the states positivity rate.
Although these figures have not returned to the level they were at previously before the early-summer spike, there have been regular questions about the reliability of the states testing data. On Monday, state health officials announced they were changing the way the positivity rate is calculated simplifying the ratio of cases to tests as an acknowledgment that the previous method for testing was flawed.
Democrats have noted the data issues in their arguments following Abbott’s news conference on Thursday.
State Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, who currently chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said in his preceding remarks, “Gov. Abbott’s press conference today was notable for what he didn’t say."
"There was no mention of a contact tracing program, no mention of improving the state’s unreliable data and no mention of expanding Medicaid to increase access to health care for the millions of Texans who are uninsured.”
The Texas Democratic Party went on to accuse Governor Abbott of "basing his decisions on dirty data."
Abbott began his news conference by praising the state’s progress in the fight against COVID-19, stating the “biggest reason” for improvements has been that Texans are now taking the pandemic seriously, and exercising personal hygiene responsibilities.
The governor reiterated to the state that doctors have said the goal is "not to eradicate the virus completely, but to contain the disease, to limit its harm and to maximize the health care system’s ability to treat both COVID patients as well as other medical needs of the community.”
Regarding any further re-openings of the State, Gov. Abbott emphasized the state will consider all data at hand, but “rely most heavily” on active hospitalizations, calling that metric the “most important information about the severity of COVID in any particular region.”
It is also the “most accurate information available on a daily basis,” Abbott said.
With that being said, the hospital regions that will be allowed to further reopen must have seen coronavirus hospitalizations makes up less than 15% of all current hospitalizations for seven consecutive days, according to the governor.
If coronavirus hospitalizations happen to rise above the 15% threshold for a seven consecutive day period in a specific region, then a "course correction is going to be needed," Abbott said, suggesting the solution would be a reversal of the area's latest re-openings.
In addition to stores, restaurants and offices, the business that will be able to shift capacity levels to 75% capacity on Monday include manufacturers, museums, libraries and gyms as well.