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New order strips local officials' ability to set capacity limits amid high hospitalizations, stresses 'personal responsibility'

The new order comes as hospitalizations reached over 15% on Thursday in the Galveston region. Other areas are close to reaching that level.

DALLAS — A new executive order issued Thursday from Gov. Greg Abbott stripped local officials' ability to limit capacity at businesses or to require vaccines or face masks.

Abbott tweeted that the order "emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates."

The new order overrides previous orders, so local officials can't restrict business capacity, even if hospitalization rates are over 15% in an area. 

That option was in place last year during the height of the pandemic, and businesses in North Texas were limited to 50% at one point.

The new order comes as hospitalizations reached over 15% on Thursday in the Galveston region, according to the state health department. Other areas are increasing close to that threshold, such as the Belton/Killeen region at 14% and Bryan/College Station region at 12%, according to the state.

On Wednesday, WFAA reached out to county judges who said, at the time, still had the option to limit business capacity if hospitalizations were at 15%.

Now, there can be no COVID-related limits for operating a business or any other establishment, the new order said. School districts or local officials also can't enact mask requirements.

In a virtual interview with WFAA, Dallas County judge Clay Jenkins reacted to the new order, accusing Abbott of making decisions based on what’s best for him politically instead of what’s best for public health.

“The governor will tell you what’s legal based on polling that will help him," Jenkins said. “The virus doesn’t care whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican or whether you’re tired or not tired. It’s just relentlessly looking for a host.”

On Wednesday, Dallas County and Texas both reported the highest number of daily cases since early February.

Texas also set several COVID milestones, Thursday:

  • More than 10,000 confirmed cases for the first time since Feb. 9. (10,086)
  • Positivity rate above 15% for the first time since Jan. 27 (15.48%) 
  • More than 5,000 COVID hospitalizations for the first time since March 4, 2021, at 5,292

Only 52.44% of the eligible Texas population has been fully vaccinated, according to the state.

The CDC's community transmission map measures the level of COVID-19 spread for every county in the U.S. The order says that in areas where the transmission rate is high (the orange and red areas seen in the map below), people are encouraged to wear face masks in areas where it's not feasible to social-distance.

Credit: CDC
This map from the CDC shows where transmission of COVID-19 is high.

"Texans are strongly encouraged as a matter of personal responsibility to consistently follow good hygiene, social-distancing and other mitigation practices," the order said.

It said state and local officials should continue to make the vaccine available for eligible people.

Hospitals must submit daily reports of hospital bed capacity to the state. Public and private entities must continue to share COVID test results with the state.

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