High COVID-19 Hospitalizations Trigger Stricter Business Restrictions In Central Texas
Central Texas businesses will be required to limit their occupancy to 50% after COVID-19 hospitalizations reached a critical threshold Sunday. Elective surgeries must be put on hold, and bars that some counties had allowed to open must close.
Bars that have been reclassified as restaurants are among those businesses that must reduce capacity.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued executive orders in the fall allowing businesses to operate at 75% capacity, but triggering stricter restrictions in regions with high COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Texas counties are divided up into 22 regions called trauma service areas. When COVID-19 hospitalizations make up more than 15% of total hospital capacity in a TSA for seven days straight, the new restrictions go into effect: Businesses operating at 75% capacity must revert to 50% capacity; bars must stop offering on-site service; and hospitals must pause elective surgeries.
Trauma Service Area O, which includes Travis County and much of Central Texas, has met that 15% threshold for seven consecutive days.
The Texas Department of State Health Services sent a letter to Travis County Judge Andy Brown on Sunday confirming the new restrictions must go into effect.
Trauma Service Area O includes the following counties:
- San Saba
In a newsletter sent out Sunday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler warned of increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Austin area and asked residents to stay at home as often as possible.
"Austin Public Health is recommending businesses allow employees to work from home and for restaurants and retail to transition to take away, delivery, or drive-through services only," Adler wrote.
Austin and Travis County have begun preparing the alternate care site set up at the city's convention center to help open up beds at local hospitals. The site was created during the first COVID surge in the summer, but has not yet taken any patients.
The site will be able to take in patients as soon as staffing is in place, officials said Saturday. Jason Pickett, the alternate health authority for Austin-Travis County, said officials believe it is inevitable that Central Texas' health care system will "soon be overwhelmed."
“When we exceed capacity, we will do so not only for COVID patients, but for all individuals needing hospital care in this community," Pickett said in a press release. "We need this community to take substantial steps now to avoid a catastrophic surge.”
Under the governor's order, occupancy limits don’t apply to religious services, government operations, child care facilities, recreational sports, schools or drive-in venues.
Abbott's order allows individual counties within a TSA that have low COVID-19 cases can apply for approval to let bars stay open and businesses operate at 75% capacity.
This story has been updated.