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Reopening Texas: Most businesses in Houston region can expand to 75% capacity; bars not included

Governor Greg Abbott said most of Texas -- including the entire Houston area -- is ready for the next phase of reopening, but bars will remain closed.

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced an expanded reopening plan for most of the state Thursday as COVID-19 numbers continue to drop.

  • Businesses in the Greater Houston Area and 18 other regions can expand to 75% capacity beginning Monday, Sept. 21.That includes restaurants, retail stores, offices, manufacturing and gyms.  
  • Bars across the state will remain closed unless they operate as restaurants because "they are nationally recognized as COVID-spreading locations," Abbott said.
  • Hospitals in the 19 regions can return to performing elective procedures. 
  • Effective Sept. 24, eligible nursing homes, assisted living facilities and long-term care facilities will be able to designate up to two essential family caregivers for visitation.

"That is a little more aggressive than I would prefer," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said as Houston moves closer to the grim milestone of 1,000 COVID-19 deaths. A total of 998 people have died in Houston. But the positivity rate is down to just over 6 percent.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she is encouraged that Governor Abbott is "adhering to a numbers-based threshold to guide his decision-making and that he has agreed to provide certain jurisdictions carve outs."

Abbott said the state relied most heavily on the hospitalization rate in each region before moving into this next phase. The percentage of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in each region must fall below 15% for seven consecutive days.

The only regions that don't currently meet that criteria are Rio Grande Valley, Victoria and Laredo. Abbott said their hospitalization rates are still “in the danger zone.” 

If hospitalization rates rise above 15% in the other regions, Abbott said changes will be needed. 

The governor emphasized that Texans must continue to wear masks, practice good hygiene and social distance as we move forward. 

"We must continue the safe practices that slowed the spread this summer," Abbott said.

Earlier this week, Hidalgo said she may lower the county's COVID-19 threat level to orange in a matter of days if current trends continue.

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of our residents, trends are moving in the right direction, but we cannot let our guard down and we are not out of the woods," Hidalgo said in a statement Thursday. "There isn’t a single person in Harris County who wants our businesses, schools or other facets of daily life to remain closed longer than they need to, but this virus hasn’t gone away and my commitment to the residents is to ensure the County’s position reflects responsible steps that must be taken for a sustainable new normal."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also released a statement Thursday evening:

"I listened to Gov. Abbott's announcement and believe the plan is a little more aggressive than I would prefer in announcing the next round of reopenings. The virus is still in our community. The state has taken an approach that comes with high risk.

“The governor is only utilizing the number of hospitalizations as the primary matrix to make decisions about reopening, and hospitalizations represent a lagging indicator.

“We have been here before. Our hospitalizations were low at the end of April, but then those numbers shot up, and the results were horrendous. Houston is still reporting too many positive cases and deaths at a level higher than in March, April, and May.

“This is not the time to take a victory lap, because it undermines the messages we have given the public to take this virus seriously and mask up and get tested.

“If people think we have conquered the virus, it makes it more challenging to get them to continue to wear face masks, stay home if they are sick, wash their hands, and get tested – all the measures we need them to take to contain the virus until there is a vaccine."

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