One hundred eighty-eight days since declaring the Chinese coronavirus a statewide emergency, Gov. Greg Abbott announced additional steps to reopen Texas from the mandates and restrictions he unilaterally imposed in response to the Chinese coronavirus earlier this year.
If this sounds familiar, it should, as this is the second such “reopening” effort made by Abbott since his original phased plan sputtered earlier this summer.
There are differences, however. Whereas the first round of reopenings revolved largely around the total number of cases of the virus as well as the positivity rate (how many people test positive out of the total amount tested), this iteration of reopenings focuses largely on the hospitalization rate (the number of coronavirus patients as it relates to total hospitalizations in a given area).
Dividing the state into 22 regions called Trauma Service Areas, Abbott announced that any region whose hospitalization rate over seven days is below 15 percent will be allowed to engage in more reopenings. Currently, this applies to 19 of the state’s 22 regions.
For many businesses—such as restaurants, gyms, and retail stores—that means moving from 50 percent occupancy limits to 75 percent, effective Monday, September 21.
Bars, however, will remain closed, as Abbott said they are “nationally recognized as COVID spreading centers.” Bars were allowed to reopen under Phase 2 of Abbott’s original reopening plan in May, but they were forced to close again weeks later in June.
Michael Klein, the President of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance, called the exclusion “unacceptable.”
“For months, we’ve been told that Anti-Business Abbott needs to see sustained positivity rates below 10% and improvements on hospitalizations for bars to be given a chance at reopening. Texas delivered. But he has not acted on this promise and it is a death sentence for thousands of small businesses,” said Klein.
Restrictions on elective surgeries will also once again be waived, as they were after the first shutdown.
For the first time since March, however, visitation to nursing homes and long-term care facilities will be opened up for most of the state on Thursday, September 24, albeit with restrictions. Under the new rules, residents will be allowed to designate up to two essential family caregivers who will be provided with training to allow them to enter a facility for a scheduled visit, including in the resident’s room. Only one caregiver will be allowed to visit a patient at a time.
Stephanie Kirby, whose special-needs son is in a state-supported living center and has been injuring himself, has been calling for a similar policy for months, as have other Texans.
Warren Norred, the attorney leading the case against Abbott, told Texas Scorecard the governor’s actions were not sufficient:
“Gov. Abbott still doesn’t get it. Allowing people to visit nursing homes only with the approval of some Austin bureaucrat is a recipe for confusion and completely unnecessary pain that no lawsuit can ever repair. Greg Abbott is 100% responsible for causing untold pain all over the state, the first link in a chain that ends with Texans watching their loved ones pass from this life forever,” said Norred.
Still, Abbott says the easing of these restrictions is made possible because of the declining rates of the virus statewide.
“The number of new cases and new hospitalizations have been cut by more than two-thirds. Just yesterday, we had the lowest number of new hospitalizations in the past three months. And, importantly, the number of people recovering from COVID continues to skyrocket,” said Abbott.
Echoing similar comments he made last month, however, he stated that certain practices—such as social distancing and wearing a mask—remain “the best defense against COVID until vaccines arrive in the coming months.”
Even with lowering hospitalization rates, there has been no indication from Abbott on when his mask mandate will be lifted.
“Today the Texas government reiterated its newly found disdain for liberty and justice when they proudly announced their vision for reopening Texas. This is not enough. Texans do not want incremental liberty and freedom. Texans want and deserve liberty and freedom in full,” wrote Hall.
“Governor, 25% tyranny is still tyranny,” he added.
Gov. Abbott’s newest set of executive orders, which are to take effect on Monday, may be viewed here.