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Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that most of Texas will be able to loosen some coronavirus restrictions, including letting many businesses increase their capacity to 75 percent, as soon as Monday.
The standard that Abbott unveiled applies to the 19 out of 22 hospital regions in the state where coronavirus patients make up less than 15 percent of all hospitalizations. In those 19 regions, businesses that have been open at 50 percent capacity will be permitted to expand to 75 percent 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.
The three hospital regions excluded from the new reopening stage are in 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.
Abbott unveiled the new standard during a news conference at the Texas Capitol that marked Abbott’s first major announcement about the reopening process since early summer. In late June, Abbott shut down bars and ordered restaurants to scale back to 50 percent capacity as case numbers started to surge.
Days later, Abbott issued a statewide mask mandate.
In the weeks since then, key coronavirus metrics have been on a downward trajectory statewide. Those statistics include daily new cases, daily new deaths, hospitalizations and the positivity rate.
Still, some of those figures have not returned to the level they were at before the early-summer spike, and there have been regular questions about the reliability of the state data. On Monday, state health officials announced they were changing the way they calculate the positivity rate – the ratio of cases to tests – an acknowledgment that the previous method was flawed.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.