Gov. Greg Abbott plans to relax business restrictions soon if COVID-19 numbers continue to drop from record highs

The Texas Tribune

During a Thursday press conference, Gov. Greg Abbott said that more announcements are likely “coming soon” about relaxing COVID-19 restrictions in Texas as cases and hospitalizations continue to drop.

Abbott spoke at a roundtable discussion in Dallas with small business owners about the state’s role in supporting small businesses during the pandemic. As more Texans continue to get vaccinated and COVID-19 hospitalizations trend downward, Abbott said, he plans to lift statewide restrictions if trends continue.

“We know there are businesses that need to get back to work. There are employees that have bills to pay. There are jobs that must be opened,” Abbott said. “I was visiting with the people around the table today to expect that things economically will be picking up very rapidly.”

On Wednesday, 9,165 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas — the first time the number has dropped below 10,000 since December, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The state also reported 9,936 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,332 new probable cases.

“We want to make sure that the numbers do continue along the same trend,” Abbott said. “And if they do continue on the same trend, we are already evaluating ways that we can begin to lift restrictions.”

While average new COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases are trending downward, the numbers are higher than when Abbott initially announced restrictions on businesses.

Under an order in October from Abbott, bars are allowed to reopen at 50% capacity and businesses like movie theaters can operate at 75% capacity. However, if the percentage of COVID-19 patients exceeds 15% of hospital capacity in a region for a week, restaurant occupancy must be reduced to 50% and bars must be shut down. On Oct. 14, the day the order took effect, the state reported 4,131 hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

An Abbott spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment about which restrictions would be lifted if trends continue or what threshold would prompt reopenings.

As of Tuesday, 3.5 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in Texas, and 3.1% of Texas’ population is fully vaccinated.

When Abbott initially closed bars and restaurants on March 19, there were 161 confirmed coronavirus cases and three reported deaths in the state. He allowed businesses to reopen in a limited capacity in April, but later closed bars and scaled restaurant capacity down in late June after the state reported 5,102 hospitalizations, which was a record at the time, and 5,707 daily confirmed cases.

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