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Rural Texas counties reopen faster than others under state rules

So far, 70 rural Texas counties are allowed to reopen under phase two of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plans for reopening the state.

KINGSLAND, Texas — Businesses in rural parts of Texas are getting the green light to reopen at a pace faster than counties with higher coronavirus case counts.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 70 counties in the state can operate businesses at 50% capacity as of Saturday.

Two of those counties, Llano and Gillespie, are in Central Texas.

Under the governor’s executive order, these counties must have fewer than five confirmed cases of the virus, as well as other health protocols in place, some of which include:

  • A list of places to get a COVID-19 test
  • Plans for contract tracing if a new case is confirmed
  • Public health guidelines posted

With these protocols met, restaurant dining rooms, retailers, malls, museums and libraries can all operate at a higher capacity.

In counties that don’t meet these guidelines, businesses can only operate at 25%.

RELATED: Some Central Texas counties could qualify for looser restrictions

Credit: Tegna

On Saturday, business boomed in Kingsland along Lake LBJ.

“People are out. People are trying to enjoy the lake,” said Nicole Brooks, general manager at Boat Town Burger Bar.

The restaurant spent weeks doing to-go only orders before reopening the dining room on Friday.

Face coverings are not required, but state and local officials still recommend wearing one if you’re going inside a business or around people you do not live with. Few people appeared to be following that advice in Kingsland on Saturday.

Brooks said the restaurant is working extra to keep things clean for customers.

“We don't want to go back to being locked down and this and that, so everyone's just really trying to follow the guidelines and work together,” Brooks said.

Down the street from Boat Town, Valentine Lakeside owner Pat Muller reopened after voluntarily shutting her resort on the water down. She was glad to have overnight guests back on Saturday.

“It was absolutely the right thing to do,” Muller said. “And I think it's going to be beneficial to us small business owners. So, it's bittersweet because I sort of believe that our cases are going to rise now that people are getting out.”

Muller is cleaning and sanitizing to make sure rooms on Lake LBJ can still be enjoyed by guests.

For business owners in Kingsland, the coronavirus was the second blow to the bottom line in less than two years.

RELATED: Connecting the community: Kingsland RM 2900 bridge finally reopens

In Oct. 2018, a historic flood washed out the FM 2900 bridge. It reopened less than a year ago, bringing a lifeline back to businesses.

“Business for us personally dropped dramatically,” Brooks said. “That was that was rough – keeping a staff going, keeping our staff on staff while we just didn't have much business.”

But the lessons learned from the flood are also helping businesses power through what’s been another difficult time.

“We are an amazingly resilient community. We band together. We survived and we thrived, and we will do the same thing through corona,” Muller said.

Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham told KVUE he’s hopeful the restrictions still in place will still contain and mitigate the virus. He also said the county is prepared to add restrictions back if there’s a sudden increase in cases.

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