Midland Mayor Patrick Payton speaks on Abbott’s decision

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AUSTIN (KXAN / KMID) — Businesses across much of Texas will be allowed to expand capacity restrictions starting as early as Sept. 21, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday.

For the state’s 19 hospital regions where coronavirus hospitalizations are less than 15% industries that were limited to 50% capacity may now expand to 75% capacity starting Sept. 21, including all retail stores, all restaurants, all office buildings, all manufacturing, all museums and libraries, and all gyms.

Hospitals in those regions may return to ordinary elective surgical procedures, Abbott also stated.

“Texans have shown that we can address both the health and safety concerns of COVID, while also taking carefully measured steps to restore the livelihoods that Texas desperately need,” Gov. Abbott said.

Starting Sept. 24, Abbott said all nursing home facilities, assisted living centers, state supported living centers, and other long-term care facilities are allowed to reopen for visitation, providing that they comply with certain health protocols and there must not be a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility. All of those facilities are now allowed to offer essential caregiver visits, he said.

Abbott indicated bars are nationally recognized as COVID-19 spreading locations, and will not be allowed to reopen at this time. He acknowledged that the state is focused on finding ways to get them open, and leaders have been working with bar owners and associations on methods of reopening.

Abbott said the metric he’s relying most heavily on is hospitalizations. Medical experts have warned about increased spread in regions where 15% or more of hospitalizations are coronavirus-related.

“Hospitalizations is the most important information about the severity of COVID-19 in any particular region,” Gov. Abbott said. “It is also the most accurate information available on a regular basis.”

At the time the order on bars and capacity restrictions was put in place, those key metrics the Governor had his eye on were rising at a rapid pace. However, in September those numbers have dropped significantly with the exception of some areas in South Texas.

The Governor stated Thursday that some areas of Texas, which had effectively addressed COVID-19, should not be held back by areas where the risk remains high.

“…the severity of COVID in one region of Texas should not dictate the business practices in some far distant regions of the state,” Abbott said Thursday afternoon.

Do you agree with the Governor’s decision to increase capacity but keep bars closed?

This is very similar to what Midland Mayor Patrick Payton said just a few weeks ago. Payton made the case that cities in the Permian Basin, who appear to have turned the tide on COVID-19 should be allowed to reopen more businesses and lift restrictions that the entire state is currently held to by Abbott’s executive orders.

Mayor Payton even called on local State representatives to push for a special session to begin tackling the Coronavirus impact in Texas.

“One of the things we are very concerned about, as all of you are, is the continuing opportunity to be able to open up our businesses and our economy, but we want to make sure we are doing that in a very healthy and safe manner,” Payton said last week. “In that regard, we are spending quite a bit of time talking to the Governor’s office and talking with our partners that are affiliated with the Governor’s Office, trying to work on legislation and some areas where we can free up the things we need to do here in Midland because we are not Dallas, we are not San Antonio, we are not Houston, we are not Austin and we firmly believe, that in cooperation with our hospital and our health department and others, there are some decisions we can make to be able to open some things back up and continue to move towards a safe and healthy opening of our economy here in Midland.”

Payton is expected to host his own news conference Thursday afternoon at Tall City Brewing.

Business owners, especially bar owners, have been vocal about having to close their doors or limit capacity. Some bar owners specifically said their livelihoods were taken from them with few options to keep them afloat.

We posed the question on bars to viewers back in July.

Data from that poll shows 79 percent of those who participated, support the reopening of bars, with just 21 percent saying no.

When the order was put in place, the positivity rate was high across Texas. It was just one of the key factors state leaders were looking at. However, that number is now at about six percent. Daily case numbers and hospitalization have also dropped, putting Texas in a better position to begin loosening the restrictions on some businesses, but bars will remain closed.

Meanwhile, if a region experiences less than 15% of all hospitalizations being coronavirus-related for seven consecutive days, then the region is safe enough to allow additional openings, Abbott said.

All Texas regions, except Victoria, Laredo and the Lower Rio Grande Valley have COVID-19 hospitalizations less than 15%, according to data provided by the Governor’s office.

Abbott said the spread of COVID-19 has steadily and significantly declined, and the hospitalizations have been cut by more than two-thirds. The number of active cases has been cut in half, he said, and the number of people recovering from the virus continues to increase.

Texas is scheduled to receive millions of 15-minute tests per month that will more quickly notify people if they are infected with COVID-19.

The biggest reason for the improvements in Texas, doctors advised Abbott, is because Texans are taking COVID-19 seriously. The best practices that leaders have put in place, including social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing, are the best defense against the virus until vaccines are available.

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