AUSTIN, TX — The mayor of Austin this week reacted to the Governor Greg Abbott’s plan to increase business occupancy levels statewide to spur business activity amid the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting the reopening move could be coming too soon as local illness rates increase among younger people.
On Thursday, Abbott issued an executive order allowing for expanded occupancy levels for restaurants, retail stores, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, gyms and exercise facilities and classes, museums and libraries while re-authorizing elective surgeries for a majority of the state of Texas. The governor also announced new guidance related to visitations at nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state. Bars were ordered to remain closed for the time being.
The governor’s move is designed to help jump-start business activity in a landscape largely stilled by the respiratory illness. In a subsequent statement, Austin Mayor Steve Adler voiced concern the gubernatorial action could be occurring too soon as the city grapples with illness now spreading noticeably among a younger set.
“Austin’s positivity rate and cases are increasing among students over age 10,” Adler said in a prepared statement. “Infections among our susceptible populations are still too high. I’m concerned and wish the Governor had waited until these numbers were lower. We need to act cautiously with these expanded openings. That means being even more diligent about masking and social distancing. We’ll watch for changes in cases and positivity rates. Let’s keep protecting our ability to open schools and remain vigilant.”
Flanked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (left) and Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Dennis Bonnen (right), Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, detailed a plan to increase occupancy levels amid coronavirus to help spur the stilled economy. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Texas Governor.
As if anticipating criticism over his business expansion plan, Abbott said during a news conference the state action was informed by data. Abbott said he implemented the use of reliable, data-driven hospitalization metrics used by doctors and medical experts to help guide the state’s ongoing efforts to contain COVID-19 and expand occupancy for businesses and services. This metric, Abbott explained, focuses on areas with high hospitalizations — referring to any Trauma Service Area (TSA) that has had seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of all hospitalized patients exceeds 15 percent until such time as the TSA has seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of all hospitalized patients is 15 percent or less.
To that end, a current list of areas with high hospitalizations will be maintained by the Texas Department of State Health Services agency. Using this metric, 19 of the 22 TSAs in Texas qualify to increase occupancy levels to 75 percent for restaurants, retail stores, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, gyms, exercise facilities and classes, museums, and libraries beginning September 21. In addition, these 19 TSAs can also resume elective surgeries.
Through the use of that metric, three of the 22 TSAs (S-Victoria, T-Laredo, and V-Lower Rio Grande Valley) must remain at 50 percent occupancy and continue postponing elective surgeries until the hospitalization metric requirements are met, the governor said. These three TSAs contain the following counties: Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Jackson, Lavaca, Victoria, Jim Hogg, Webb, Zapata, Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy.
“With the medical advancements we have made and the personal hygiene practices we have adopted, Texans have shown that we can address both the health and safety concerns of COVID-19 while also taking careful, measured steps to restore the livelihoods that Texans depend on,” Abbott said. “Achieving both goals requires safe standards that contain COVID-19, emphasize protecting the most vulnerable, and establish clear metrics that the public can depend on. That is why today we have announced expanded occupancy standards for a variety of services. But, Texans should remember that a steady and significant decline in COVID-19 cases is not a sign to let up in our vigilance against the virus.
“Instead, Texans must continue to heed the guidance of medical experts by wearing a mask, social distancing, and practicing proper sanitation strategies. By maintaining health and safety standards that are proven to mitigate COVID-19, we can continue to slow the spread while opening up the Texas economy.”
This article originally appeared on the Austin Patch