Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will allow restaurants and other businesses across the state to increase their capacity, lifting some limitations put in place to curb the pandemic. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, September 17, Abbott cited the decrease in hospitalization rates due to COVID-19 in 19 of 22 hospital regions to justify his decision.
Beginning Monday, September 21, retail stores, restaurants, offices, manufacturing facilities, museums, libraries, and gyms will all be allowed to operate at 75-percent capacity in the 19 regions, which includes all of the state except Victoria, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley.
Bars will remain closed.
In addition, nursing homes and other residential facilities will be open to visits from "essential caregivers" beginning September 24, subject to provisions designed to prevent outbreaks. Hospitals may resume elective surgical procedures immediately.
Abbott emphasized that Texas’ success in lowering the state’s hospitalization rate by two-thirds from its peak in July stems from individuals taking responsibility for following health protocols such as washing their hands, maintaining appropriate social distancing, and wearing a mask in public. This is the first increase in capacity since Abbott slowed the state's opening on June 26 by closing bars and reducing restaurants to 50-percent capacity. He instituted a statewide mask order on July 2.
“Without vaccines, containing COVID is a challenge,” Abbott said. “Texans have shown they are up to that challenge . . . We are now armed with the personal safety standards and medical advancements that we can contain COVID until more treatments and vaccines are available.”
The governor also cautioned against those who want the entire state to reopen fully. “The fact is COVID does still exist, and Texans remain susceptible,” he said.
Abbott also indicated a willingness to work with bar owners to develop procedures that will allow them to reopen safely, saying: “We are focused on finding ways to get them open.”
Some bars have been able to reopen by reclassifying themselves as restaurants. Abbott noted that bars that have done so are required to follow certain guidelines that apply to all restaurants — including requiring customers to remain seated except when they're going to the restroom or entering and exiting — and those that violate those regulations risk losing their licenses to sell alcohol.
Texas has almost 70,000 active cases of COVID-19, with more than 3,200 hospitalizations statewide. The state has reported more than 14,000 deaths from the virus.