By Adam Zuvanich
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week that most businesses in most locales around the state can serve more customers at the same time.
The plan to relax COVID-19 restrictions was met with cautious optimism by the top elected official in Fort Bend County, where the number of new cases has dwindled compared to a month ago.
Abbott said most business in all but three regions of Texas could expand to 75 percent occupancy starting Monday, with the Houston region being among the areas where restrictions are being eased. Hospitals could resume elective medical procedures last Thursday, while nursing homes and assisted-lived centers can start allowing certain visitors this Thursday.
“As Governor Abbott loosens his statewide restrictions and shutdown measures, I encourage all Fort Bend residents to not let their guard down and continue to utilize the practices that have gone a long way in fighting COVID-19,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said in a statement provided to the Star.
Abbott said the expanded reopening will apply to all restaurants, retail stores, office buildings, maintenance facilities, museums, libraries and exercise gyms, which could previously operate at 50 percent of their building occupancies. He said bars will continue to remain closed to customers but added, “We are focused on finding ways to get them open.”
Abbott cited a steady decline in the rate of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations during the last two months as his reason for loosening restrictions in most areas of the state, with Laredo, Victoria and the Rio Grande Valley being the exceptions. And he pointed to hospitalizations as his key metric, saying regions where COVID-19 patients account for less than 15 percent of the total patient count, for a period of at least seven consecutive days, can take advantage of the increased reopening.
Those regions include the most populous metropolitan areas in Texas, including Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso.
As of Monday, according to the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council, COVID-19 patients accounted for 5.6 percent of the total hospital patients in Fort Bend County. The county has had a total of 15,789 cases of COVID-19, with the disease having caused at least 180 deaths and 14,719 patients having recovered.
“I’m very proud of Fort Bend residents for taking the necessary steps like wearing masks, practicing physical distancing and following the CDC guidelines to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19,” George said. “Our community understands the need to be vigilant, so we can allow a gradual and safe reopening.”
Abbott also stressed the importance of individual responsibility at this stage of the pandemic, with a vaccine still unavailable. School has already started, with some campuses already allowing students to gather on campus and others set to do so in the coming weeks. High school and college sporting events also have begun to take place across the state.
Flu season is approaching, too.
“Personal vigilance is the best way to keep down the number of COVID-19 cases, the number of hospitalizations and the number of fatalities,” Abbott said. “Without a vaccine available, containing COVID-19 is a challenge. But Texans have already showed that Texans are up to that challenge.”