AUSTIN - Texas Governor Greg Abbott has expanded capacity for most hospital regions across the state.
The governor made the announcement during his press conference on the state’s response to COVID-19 on Thursday.
"Since late July the COVID-19 cases have steadily and significantly declined," Gov. Abbott said. "Yesterday we had the lowest number of hospitalizations in the past three months."
He added that doctors tell him the biggest reason for these improvements is because Texans are taking COVID-19 seriously by practicing the CDC guidelines of washing hands, using masks, and keeping safe distances from others.
There are 22 hospital regions in Texas, and Gov. Abbott identified three that are suffering high hospitalization rates. The Laredo, Rio Grande Valley, and Victoria hospital regions are dealing with COVID-19 cases taking up more than 15% of hospitalizations.
The other 19 hospital regions are allowed to open in an expanded capacity. Governor Abbott says capacity has increased to 75% at all retail stores, restaurants, office buildings, manufacturers, museums, libraries, and gyms beginning Sept. 21.
Hospitals can return to ordinary elective surgeries.
Nursing home facilities, assisted-living centers, and long-term care facilities can offer essential caregiver visits.
Gov. Abbott said bars, however, must remain closed. “Because bars are nationally recognized as COVID-spreading locations, they are still not able to open at this time. However, it is important for them to know that we are focused on finding ways to get them open."
Some bars and their associations are working with the governor on effective strategies that will ensure that when they do open, the possibility of spread of COVID-19 is contained.
Gov. Abbott also added that Texas will soon receive millions of 15-minute COVID-19 tests per month, helping to massively increase the amount testing in the state.
During the noon press conference, Governor Abbott was joined by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, TDEM Chief Nim Kidd, HHSC Executive Commissioner Cecile Young, and UT System Executive Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs John Zerwas, MD.
On Wednesday, health officials in Texas reported more than 3,400 confirmed new coronavirus cases, as well as 135 more COVID-19 deaths. State totals are currently at more than 674,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 14,000 deaths.
In a tweet last month, Governor Abbott said that cases and hospitalizations had declined since the orders he issued in July to slow the spread of COVID-19, and he hinted that he could soon be announcing the next steps for lifting some restrictions.
Just ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, the governor implemented a face-covering requirement for counties with 20 or more positive cases. A few days before, on June 26, he issued an order closing bars and limiting restaurant capacity to 50%.
Prior to those orders, Texas had undergone three phases of reopening. Bars, restaurants, museums, hair salons, youth camps, movie theaters, museums, and more have had been allowed to reopen with some restrictions on capacity and the requirement to follow certain health protocols. In late June, the governor announced a temporary pause to further reopening phases.