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9.17.20 – ABC13 –¬†AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK)

Most of Texas are now able to loosen some coronavirus restrictions, including letting many businesses increase their capacity to 75%, beginning today.

The standard that Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled applies to the 19 out of 22 hospital regions in the state where coronavirus patients make up less than 15% of all hospitalizations. In those 19 regions, businesses that have been open at 50% capacity will be permitted to expand to 75% capacity – a group of places that includes retail stores, restaurants and office buildings. Hospitals in those regions will also be allowed to offer normal elective procedures again, and nursing homes can reopen for visitations under certain standards.

Here’s a look at Gov. Abbott’s announcement Thursday where he detailed the state’s plan to further reopen businesses in Texas hospital regions that have low hospitalization rates.

The three hospital regions excluded from the new reopening stage are the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Victoria. Abbott said those regions’ hospitalizations are still “in the danger zone.”

At the same time, Abbott said the state was not yet ready to reopen bars, saying they are “nationally recognized as COVID-spreading locations.” He stressed, though, that the state is looking for ways to let bars reopen safely.

Nursing homes and assisted living centers are also being allowed to open for visitation beginning Thursday. This is a change from the August announcement when Abbott allowed limited visitation for facilities that had no active cases. Abbott has now allowed the full reopening of nursing homes and assisted living centers to visitors with proper protocols in place.

There’s concern that the reopening process might be happening too fast.

After the state reopened in May and June, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and positivity numbers spiked, forcing the governor to close bars, and reduce restaurant capacity.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the numbers are trending in the right direction, but now isn’t the time to talk about reopening.
“What I want to avoid again is, reopening things just because we’re tired and having to bounce back and forth, which is worse for the kids, the economy and the virus. But I get that it’s tiring,” Hidalgo said.

Harris County’s COVID-19 threat level remains at severe.

Hidalgo said hospitalization numbers are where they need to be, but daily cases are too high, as well as the positivity rate, which is at about 8%.

She worries reopening could make things worse.

Dr. James McDeavitt with Baylor College of Medicine believes it’s too early to talk reopening.

Right now, there are about 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases in the Houston area.

He said the number needs to drop to 200 in order to reopen.

“A thousand cases a day, that is far too many to do real contact tracing,” McDeavitt explained. “We need to get that down to 200 cases a day or less.”

The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.

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