Houston restaurants can increase their indoor capacity to 75 percent starting Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced at a press conference this afternoon.
It’s the second time that restaurants have been allowed to increase to 75 percent capacity — Abbott initially announced plans for that back in June, then walked that increase back in July as COVID-19 cases rose. Bars will continue to remain closed, and Abbott did not specify a timeline for when they might be able to reopen. The governor did, however, clarify that when inside restaurants, patrons are expected to stay seated at their tables unless getting up to go to the restroom, and if they do walk around the restaurant, mask wearing is required.
“Because bars are nationally recognized as COVID spreading locations, they are still not able to open at this time. However, it is important for them to know that we are focused on ways to get them open,” Abbott said. “We need to work with the bars on effective strategies so that when they open, COVID spread can be effectively contained.” Houston’s bars have been closed since June 29, when Abbott was forced to walk back reopening as COVID-19 cases spiked across the state.
Abbott said that state officials will be looking at a specific metric — percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations — to determine when further openings can happen. He also noted that these reopenings are only allowed where less than 15 percent of total hospitalizations are COVID cases for seven straight days. Of the 22 designated hospital regions in Texas, three are still above that number — Laredo, the Rio Grand Valley, and Victoria. Restaurants and other businesses in those regions can not increase capacity until they get below that 15 percent threshold.
At the press conference. Abbott spoke of the need to balance containing the coronavirus with easing the economic pains that a partial closure has caused Texans. He also addressed the importance of personal responsibility, citing preventative measures like mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing as ways Texans can control the spread of the virus. Experts still advise that eating outdoors, or getting takeout or delivery, is safer than eating or otherwise congregating indoors.
The move comes just one day after the Texas Tribune reported that, back in May when Abbott allowed restaurants to reopen at limited capacity, the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate was still significantly higher than the 5 percent “benchmark” positivity rate that the World Health Organization recommends for reopening businesses. This early reopening, it seems, was a major contributor to the spike in novel coronavirus cases that the state saw in June.
According to Abbott, the spread of COVID-19 has steadily, and significantly, declined since July. However, yesterday Texas saw the largest jump in cases in recent weeks, with more than 6,000 new positive tests.
- A Timeline of Houston’s Rocky Restaurant Reopening During the COVID-19 Pandemic [EHOU]
- Share of positive COVID-19 cases as Texas reopened was higher than originally reported, new state calculations show [Texas Tribune]
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Requires Houston Bars to Close Again As COVID-19 Cases Surge [EHOU]