Texans have been good, so it's time for more openings, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday, but don't count on raising a glass with friends to celebrate. The governor said businesses in the state's 19 hospital regions where COVID-19 cases compose less than 15% of hospital admissions will be allowed to open at 75% capacity starting Monday. Many of these businesses were previously only allowed to open at half their capacity.
Bars must remain closed.
The businesses allowed to expand include all retail stores, restaurants, office buildings, manufacturing, museums, libraries and gyms.
"Texans have shown that we can address both the health and safety concerns of COVID while also taking carefully measured steps to restore the livelihoods that Texas desperately needs,” the governor said.
Health experts told Abbott that the state is seeing improvements because people are using good hygiene, wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said that while the state is seeing these improvements, it is important to remember the threats posed by the coronavirus.
There are 22 total hospital regions in Texas. The three in which coronavirus hospitalizations are greater than 15% are Victoria, Laredo and the Lower Rio Grande Valley. These hospitalization percentages will be an important factor for future reopenings, Abbott said.
"When COVID hospitalizations are high, it means the spread of COVID is excessive in a particular region and that corrective action is needed," he said. "When hospitalizations are low, it means that COVID is better contained in that region and that business can reopen."
Hospitals in the 19 regions will also be allowed to resume elective surgical procedures starting immediately. The DFW area's coronavirus hospitalizations are currently down to about 6.3%, according to data presented by the governor.
A GoFundMe campaign was recently set up for Opening Bell Coffee, a coffee shop in Dallas that hosts live concerts, to help cover losses sustained throughout the pandemic. Owner Pascale Hall says she plans to add more shows to the shop's event calendar in light of Abbott's announcement. To ensure they do not go over capacity, Hall said these shows will be ticketed.
John Jay Myers, the owner of The Free Man Cajun Café and Lounge, said the expanded capacity will not affect his place much. Opening at 50% capacity gave the restaurant just enough space to keep patrons socially distanced. If they allowed any more people inside, they would not be able to keep a safe distance.
Later in the week, beginning Sept. 24, state-supported living centers, nursing homes, assisted living centers and other care facilities will be allowed to reopen for visitation as long as they are not experiencing a coronavirus outbreak. These spaces will also be allowed to offer essential caregiver visits again.
Abbott said while the state is still looking for ways bars can safely reopen, they are still recognized nationally as locations likely to spread COVID-19.
“There are some Texans who want to fully open Texas 100% as if COVID no longer is a threat," Abbott said. “If we fully reopen Texas without limits, without safe practices it could lead to an unsustainable increase in COVID that would require the possibility of being forced to ratchet back down.”
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Chris Polone, owner of The Rail Club Live!, has been on a crusade against Abbott and his refusal to reopen bars. With only $24 left in the venue's bank account, Polone said he was forced to reopen his venue at the end of August. On Thursday, Polone said he was not surprised by Abbott's decision to keep bars closed.
"This is the first time in the history of the entire world that public safety boils down to the gross revenue generated from hot dogs versus the gross revenue generated by Bud Lites," Polone said.
Despite Abbott's announcement, Polone said he still has no plans to close.