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Houston area hits hospitalization threshold, triggering reopening rollbacks

Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties are among 9 Southeast Texas counties that have reported a week of worrisome hospitalization numbers.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Seven straight days of high hospitalization rates have triggered a state-issued order for several Houston-area counties to scale back their reopening plans.

Trauma Service Area Q – which is made up of Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Austin, Colorado, Matagorda, Walker, Waller and Wharton counties – has had seven consecutive days of COVID-19 hospitalizations above 15% of total hospital capacity.

According to a state order, the counties must pause elective surgeries and scale back indoor business capacity to 50%. Bars are also ordered to stop indoor service.

In order for the area to return to where it had been (allowing elective surgeries and businesses operating at 75%), it'll need to log seven consecutive days with less than 15% of their hospital capacity being COVID-19 patients.

Read the letter that was sent to county leaders below:

What does it mean?

Hospitals must cancel elective surgeries and bars will have to shut down and return to to-go/delivery service only.

Other businesses must scale back to 50% capacity. This excludes hair and nail salons. They can continue operating at 75% capacity but must follow social distancing guidelines.

Some bars have reclassified to be considered restaurants, based on the percentage of revenue from food. Those bars-turned-restaurants can stay open with 50% occupancy indoors, but there's not a limit on occupancy outside.

Counties can ask for an exemption and, if granted, can continue to operate at 75% if the county has fewer than 30 cases reported over the last 14 days.

What are they saying?

“This is a wake-up call for us,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo called it an extremely concerning point in the fight against COVID-19.

“We need the trajectory to dramatically change,” Hidalgo said. “We need our hospitalizations to slow down, to flatten and to go downward. Currently, none of that is happening. Quite the opposite.”

According to the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission, 640 bars in Harris County have obtained restaurant permits since the start of the pandemic.

“Do I think folks should be going to a restaurant or a bar that is open at 75% capacity, 50% capacity ... a bar through the loophole that we all know exists? No,” Hidalgo said.

Those that have been reclassified as restaurants can continue to operate at the reduced 50% capacity in areas where there's been a rollback due to COVID-19.

“We ought to support those establishments through drive-thru, through takeout so this is the time to take this, for the red alert that it is and not sleep on it,” she said.

Hidalgo pleaded with the community to recognize the growing danger and to stop gatherings with people outside of their immediate households.

Meanwhile, Congressman Dan Crenshaw was against the rollback, tweeting, "Businesses should not comply. Lockdowns are not supported by law, they are unconstitutional edicts.  Law enforcement should not enforce this. Stop stealing people’s right to make a living." 

You can read the full order 32-GA here.