Local NewsNine South Texas Counties Forced to Restrict Business Operations by Gov. Abbott

Due to exceeding the state's benchmark, counties in South Texas will have business reopening limits rolled back to 50 percent for restaurants and bars will once again close.
December 28, 2020
COVID-19 restrictions were tightened in nine Texas counties this week as their coronavirus hospitalization rate climbed above 15 percent for seven consecutive days.

The counties within Trauma Service Area R — Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Harden, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Newton, and Orange — were subject to the restriction.

The hospital region’s coronavirus hospitalization rate reached as high as 39 percent the week before Christmas and as of Monday sits at 18.3 percent.

Back in September, Governor Greg Abbott formally moved the state away from the base positivity rate and toward COVID-19 patients as a share of a hospital region’s occupied beds as the new metric from which to dictate reopening or closing of Texas’ economy. The line was set and has remained at 15 percent.

Counties within hospital regions below that benchmark could reopen most businesses at 75 percent capacity, previously capped at 50 percent.

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At that point, however, bars remained excluded from reopening measures. That changed a few weeks later when the ability was extended to bars — provided the county judge allowed.

In a letter to county judges within the region, Texas Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt announced the further restrictions had been triggered. Corresponding counties would have to shut bars down, limit restaurant capacity back to 50 percent, and halt elective medical procedures.

Letter from DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt to Galveston County Judge Mark Henry.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry criticized the dictate, saying, “The effects [of the rollback] are going to be dramatic and in some cases devastating.”

The county requested from the state an exemption but, Henry mentioned, no notification of receipt was provided. A spokesman with the county judge’s office confirmed Monday they still haven’t received any such notice.

“To try to impose a one-size-fits-all solution for that geographic area is really quite ridiculous,” Henry added.

Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) reiterated Henry’s comments, stating, “I think it’s appropriate that we’re here at the emergency operations center because protecting small businesses is always an emergency.”

Middleton filed a bill that day that would prohibit agencies like the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission from suspending a business’ license for violations of emergency orders.

He further stated that Galveston County’s hospitals have loads of available capacity that patients from outside the county and state are being accepted in there. “No responsible hospital would do that unless they had the available capacity.”

Henry also questioned the data’s accuracy, given past discrepancies between reporting systems, and highlighted one skewing factor — that a Beaumont hospital last week did not report one day’s cases and the backlog, when reported, drove the capacity metric up to its 35 percent high.

“Here in Galveston County, we know that the hospitals do not have capacity problems and they do not have staffing problems,” Henry emphasized.

Abbott said last week that “No, we will not have any more shutdowns in Texas.”

The governor’s office did not reply to a request for comment on the statement and the new restrictions in South Texas.

Earlier this month, such restrictions were triggered in North Texas. Last week, Middleton’s Texas Freedom Caucus colleague, Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) criticized such measures.

“Gov. Abbott’s orders are largely unconstitutional and a violation of the rights of Texans,” he emphasized, adding, “Lock-down orders have not been proven to be effective [and] losing livelihoods and destroying businesses also has negative health consequences.”

The counties affected by the rollback must post seven consecutive days below the 15 percent mark before the re-openings are reinstated.

Update: Hospital region P — consisting of Bexar, Comal, Gillespie, and 18 other counties in southwest Texas — will be subjected to the same restrictions after surpassing the 15 percent metric for seven consecutive days, the DSHS announced Monday.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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