Williamson County’s government has cautioned residents that businesses might face some occupancy restrictions as early as this week.
On Jan. 7, the county reported that Texas Trauma Service Area (TSA) Region O, which includes Williamson County, has experienced a steady increase in people hospitalized due to the COVID-19 virus. Per Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32, certain businesses may be required to decrease their occupancy limit if the trend continues.
“It has never been more crucial for us as a community to reduce the spread of this virus,” said County Judge Bill Gravell.
Region O’s hospitalization rate reportedly surpassed 15 percent on Jan. 3 and has increased since then. A rollback has not been mandated yet, but the county anticipates the measure due to the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Williamson County will further notify residents in the event the Texas Department of State Health Services issues a determination letter stating the region has become an area of high hospitalizations. This notice could be issued as early as Sunday, Jan. 10, based upon current hospitalization data.
“We obviously support the directives from Gov. Abbott and Judge Gravel,” said Stacey Osborne, Taylor’s city communications manager, “and expect that our local business owners will do the same in order to keep our community safe.”
In terms of Taylor-specific restrictions, none are expected as it pertains to businesses or facilities aside from guidance already set.
“There are no additional measures planned by the city of Taylor beyond any potential state directive at this time,” said Mayor Brandt Rydell. “We will continue to follow the previously adopted phased reopening plan for the city of Taylor.”
The city is currently designated as being in the red phase of the reopening plan, adopted in September. The red phase indicates that county health officials have determined that there is an uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus in the community. City facility closures and restrictions are in place as deemed by the plan, which can be viewed at https://www.ci.taylor.tx.us/documentcenter/view/11255.
“We encourage residents to stay vigilant,” said Osborne, “and follow the recommendations from the Williamson County and Cities Health District to wash their hands, wear masks, stay home when they are sick, and practice social distancing.”
Why are these decisions being made?
Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32 went into effect Oct. 14, and states that when the TSA has a high hospitalization rate, any business establishment that was allowed to operate at 75 percent occupancy limit must roll back to a 50 percent occupancy limit. A high hospitalization rate is defined in the order as any TSA that has had seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of the total hospital capacity exceeds 15 percent.
A rollback to occupancy limits does not affect businesses such as religious services, local government operations, child care services, youth camps, recreation sports programs for youth and adults, public or private schools, and drive-in concerts, movies or similar events, which are listed as having no occupancy limit according to the Order. Personal care and beauty services can operate with at least six feet of social distancing between workstations. All of the exemptions and information in GA-32 can be found on the governor’s website at https://gov.texas.gov.
“We all must consistently follow the personal protective measures we have been emphasizing throughout the course of this pandemic,” said Gravell. “Please wear a mask, watch your distance around people outside your household, and wash your hands frequently. This is the best way to keep ourselves and our family members safe and reduce the number of people being hospitalized daily.”
In addition, GA-32 states that bars or similar establishments that are not restaurants cannot operate indoors on premises, but may offer drive-thru, pickup or delivery options as authorized by the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission (TABC). The occupancy limit applies only to indoor and not outdoor areas, events, or establishments, although social distancing and other safety protocols must be followed.
According to Abbott’s order, businesses that have been required to roll back to a 50 percent occupancy limit may return to 75 percent occupancy when the TSA hospitalization rate for COVID-19 returns to below 15 percent for seven consecutive days.
For more information on GA-32 and data on hospitalizations, visit the Texas Department of State Health Services’ dedicated page at https://www.dshs.texas.gov/ga3031.