Statewide NewsCOVID-19 Restrictions Could Return Soon Under Gov. Abbott’s Trigger Order

County judges can implement renewed restrictions if COVID-19 hospitalizations rise above 15 percent of a region’s capacity for seven days.
July 29, 2021
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Update: After this article was originally published, Gov. Abbott signed a new executive order removing local officials’ ability to place COVID-19-related operating limits on businesses under his previous order. More information on the new order can be found here.

With the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), county judges in some parts of the state could begin implementing new restrictions.

Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that he signed in March to end statewide restrictions, county judges may renew limited restrictions for counties that are in the state’s trauma service areas (TSA) where COVID-19 hospitalizations exceed 15 percent of hospital capacity for seven days in a row.

While all regions have been below the threshold since February, certain parts of the state are seeing their total reported COVID-19 patients quickly heading towards that mark.

A month ago, coronavirus patients accounted for less than three percent of the capacity for TSAs L (Belton and Killeen) and R (Galveston), but now the totals in those regions are the highest in the state at just shy of 14 percent of the capacity.

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Counties in TSA L include Bell, Coryell, Hamilton, Lampasas, Milam, and Mills, and counties in TSA R include Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Newton, and Orange.

Three other regions of the state have now surpassed 10 percent hospital capacity: TSAs N (Bryan and College Station), S (Victoria), and T (Laredo).

All other areas in the state are still below 10 percent, but most have seen an uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the several weeks.

New orders issued by county judges must have some limits under Abbott’s order.

As of now, government mask mandates are off the table.

The governor’s executive order prohibits jurisdictions from imposing “a penalty of any kind for failure to wear a face covering or failure to mandate that customers or employees wear face coverings.”

However, the exception is that private businesses may still require masks and under Abbott’s order, “a legally authorized official may act to enforce trespassing laws and remove violators at the request of a business establishment or other property owner.”

Though Abbott had reversed course from previous statements when he issued the statewide mask mandate last summer, he has veered away from the policy since he ended the requirement in March.

Abbott doubled down on prohibiting mask mandates in May by signing another executive order targeting government entities, and has continued to oppose the measure even as cases have been on the rise again.

“The time for government mask mandates is over—now is the time for personal responsibility,” said Abbott in a tweet on Tuesday. “Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask or have their children wear masks.”

Besides prohibiting mask mandates, Abbott’s executive order also prohibits restricting business capacity limits “at less than 50 percent of total occupancy, with no operating limits allowed to be imposed for religious services (including those conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship), public and private schools and institutions of higher education, and child-care services.”

Further, Abbott’s order prohibits  “confinement in jail” as punishment for violating any COVID-19 order.

Additionally, under a vaccine passport ban that was approved with broad support by state lawmakers and signed by the governor, businesses in the state “may not require a customer to provide any documentation certifying the customer’s COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission status.”

DSHS maintains a list of counties that are above the 15 percent hospitalization threshold for seven consecutive days here.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.

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