Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Thursday afternoon that most Texas restaurants and retail stores can expand capacity starting Monday. There is one glaring exception to this good news, though. Sorry bar owners, you have to wait longer before you can open up your bars. Bars will remain closed statewide for now.
According to Governor Abbott’s decision, restaurants, retail stores, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, museums, libraries, and gyms will be allowed to go from 50% capacity to 75% capacity starting Monday. There are, however, three regions that do not benefit from this decision. Their current restrictions remain in place.
Abbott’s Strike Force to Open Texas carved out 22 hospital regions in the state and will only allow the expanded capacity in regions with COVID-19 hospitalizations under 15 percent of the region’s capacity for seven days straight.
The expanded capacity rules start Monday.
Only three regions – Rio Grande, Laredo and Victoria – are over the threshold as of Thursday.
“That level of hospitalization shows COVID is spreading too much for those regions to expand their openings,” Abbott said. “The other 19 regions are able to open at the expanded capacity announced today.”
Abbott is convinced that to re-open bars at this point is too dangerous. He said they are focused on finding a way to do it and working with bar owners to find a process to do it.
In other good news, starting on September 24 hospitals in the safe regions can now do elective surgery. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities can allow visitation again and allow essential caregiver visits, too.
Re-opening cannot come soon enough for restaurant owners. According to a recent survey, up to half of Texas restaurants will have to permanently close if a significant amount of money from the government isn’t made available. No doubt business owners are all keeping an eye on what is finally decided in the next coronavirus stimulus package coming out of Congress.
The Texas Restaurant Association released results of a survey this week predicting half percent of Texas restaurants will close within the next six months if they don’t receive federal funding.
In Texas, the pandemic took a particularly heavy financial toll on the restaurant industry, leaving many of the restaurants to shutter their doors. The industry lost an estimated $4.2 billion in sales and nearly 700,000 jobs from March to April, according to the TRA.
Houston, for example, takes pride in being a restaurant town. Some old favorites have already had to announce permanent closures because they simply couldn’t hold on until they are allowed to re-open and customers feel comfortable going out again. The uncertainty of when life may return to a more normal existence is too heavy of a burden to bear, especially for smaller local businesses.
The survey reports that 71% restaurant operators don’t believe that the restaurant business will return to more normal pre-pandemic levels in the next six months. 73% say operational costs have risen, too. Many restaurants have moved sales online to survive and offer delivery, curbside pick-up or purchases through third-party delivery apps. 77% of businesses say that off-site sales currently outweigh in-store sales.
Abbott says most of Texas is on the downward trend with the coronavirus pandemic. It isn’t time to fully re-open yet, though. He doesn’t want to go back to giving the green light to re-opening only to have to backtrack and shut businesses back down. He did that in late June after allowing businesses, including bars, to re-open in May at limited capacities but the Memorial Day weekend caused a spike back up in positive cases.
“Since late July, the spread of Covid-19 has steadily and significantly declined. The number of new cases and new hospitalizations have been cut by more than two-thirds. Just yesterday we had the lowest number of hospitalizations in the past three months,” Abbott said.
“Covid does still exist and most Texans remain susceptible,” Abbott said during a news conference. “If we fully reopen Texas without limits, without safe practices, it can lead to an unsustainable increase in Covid that would require the possibility of being forced to ratchet back down.”
Governor Abbott reminded Texans that safe practices put into place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus remain in place – wearing a mask, social distancing, and practicing proper sanitation strategies.
Expanding occupancy levels for select businesses and services and re-authorizing elective surgeries for a majority of the state of Texas.
— Gov. Greg Abbott (@GovAbbott) September 17, 2020