Restaurants in Austin and Travis County must immediately reduce their indoor dining capacities to 50 percent, because of the high-number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the area, as announced on Sunday, January 10. The rollbacks were triggered because the hospitalization rate in the area has been more than 15 percent for the past seven days, as called for by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order in the fall.
There were 586 new COVID-related hospital admissions on January 9, and over 450 new cases every day of the last week.
The order comes while Austin and Travis County are in Stage 5 of its risk-based guidelines, where officials recommend that restaurants voluntarily close dine-in areas, or, at least, close indoor areas and limit outdoor capacities to 50 percent. In a press release, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said, “The projections have been concerning for some time, and this is just the latest reminder that Austin-Travis County is experiencing a deadly surge in cases as a result of holiday gatherings and gatherings thereafter.”
The return to 50 percent capacity has already happened for many counties throughout the state, including Bexar, Dallas, Harris, as well as counties surrounding Houston. However, Escott said cases are still rising in these areas, and these restrictions alone will not be enough to counterbalance the increase. “We need every person in this community to understand that exceeding our hospital capacity is now inevitable, but how far we exceed that capacity depends on all of us. Today is the day to decide to stay home and reduce risk to save our hospitals and save lives,” he said in the statement.
Gov. Abbott’s plan, released in early October, uses the hospitalization rate metric rather than the number of cases as the guideline to prompt any sort of business capacity reduction. If the percentage of COVID-19-related hospitalizations remains above 15 percent for seven days, then area businesses that have opened with 75 percent capacities will have to go back to 50 percent and bars will have to close. However, bars can remain open if county judges do not opt into the plan, as happened in Galveston county. (While bars are technically closed in Travis County, many bars have reopened as restaurants through Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission loopholes like serving food).
Travis County falls under the Trauma Service Area O, a regional body responsible for planning emergency medical service, which also includes Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, San Saba, and Williamson counties.
Over New Year’s weekend, Austin and Travis County attempted to help reduce the COVID-19 surge by implementing a required nightly dine-in curfew, but the state of Texas eventually blocked those efforts.