With case counts and hospitalizations on a steady decline since July, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday a loosening of the COVID-19 safety restrictions he has had in effect since the end of June.
Effective immediately, elective surgeries may resume at Texas hospitals.
Starting Monday, restaurants, retail stores, offices, museums, manufacturing facilities, libraries and gyms may increase occupancy to 75% in all but three areas of Texas. The Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Victoria are excluded from Abbott’s latest announcement because COVID-19 hospitalizations still remain too high there.
“We know many restaurants will continue to struggle to reach the occupancy cap because of the social distancing requirements,” the Texas Restaurant Association noted in a statement. “However, we’re also grateful that Texas is one of a handful of states that allow restaurants to use partitions to bring tables closer together, while still shielding customers to keep them safe. We will continue to work with our restaurants and our policymakers to ensure restaurants can safely bring as many people back into their dining rooms as possible.”
Abbott will allow nursing homes, assisted living centers and other long-term care facilities to resume visitations as long as they have no COVID-19 cases beginning next Thursday.
Bars, however, will still have to stay closed.
“We are focused on finding ways to get them open,” Abbott said. “We need to see COVID numbers continue to be contained, 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.”
Moving forward, Abbott will rely most heavily on regional hospitalization rates in making decisions. If hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the three areas of south Texas still dealing with high spread drop below 15% for seven days in a row, he said it will be safe to allow them to reopen. Likewise, if hospitalizations for COVID-19 should exceed 15% for seven consecutive days in any other areas of the state, a course correction will be needed.
“Hospitalizations are 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,” the governor said.
The governor’s reliance solely on hospitalization rates marks a change from his previous practice of using both the percentage of tests that are positive and hospitalizations to guide him. Earlier this week, the state announced it has changed the method it uses to calculate the positivity rate to correct issues that had led to inaccurate reporting of what was really going on during the summer.
Abbott stressed that Texans still need to do their part by wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and following other safe practices.
“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. Personal vigilance is the best way to keep down the number of COVID cases, the number of hospitalizations and the number of fatalities,” Abbott said.
For families of nursing home patients, today’s announcement is very welcome news.
“It is critical to the health of residents that we provide opportunities wherever possible for families to reunite, while continuing to take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of disease,” said HHS Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young. “Safely visiting with family and friends is the best medicine and most reassuring act we can provide for our most fragile Texans during these challenging times.”
Under the new rules, residents will be allowed to designate up to two essential family caregivers who will be provided necessary training to allow them to safely go inside a facility for a scheduled visit, including in the resident’s room, to help ensure their loved one’s physical, social and emotional needs are being met. Designated caregivers will not be required to maintain physical distancing, but only one caregiver can visit a resident at a time.
Texas has cut the number of active cases by more than half and hospitalizations have been reduced by two-thirds since July. You can track the state’s COVID-19 activity here.