With COVID numbers rising and hospitalizations setting records for 14 straight days, Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday capped restaurant occupancy at 50 percent and re-closed Texas bars. Abbott also shut down river-rafting trips and banned outdoor gatherings of over 100 people, unless local officials approve.
Prior to Friday, bars were up to 50 percent capacity and restaurants to 75 percent. Tubing had just gotten underway in Texas waterways, including the Frio, Blanco, Guadalupe, Pedernales, and Comal rivers.
On Thursday, however, Texas saw another record number of new cases — 5,996 — as well as hospitalizations — 4,739. The state's ratio of positive cases to tests, a seven-day average, rose back up to 11.76 percent — the same rate as in mid-April. Abbott had said exceeding 10 percent would be cause for alarm.
In Anderson County, three new confirmed cases Thursday brought the total number to 117, including 94 who recovered. As of Friday, no confirmed COVID-related deaths were reported in Anderson County.
County Judge Robert Johnston said Friday he did not plan now to issue new local orders.
Abbott urged all Texans to wear masks in public, wash their hands rigorously, practice social distancing, and stay home whenever possible.
“We will certainly follow the rules,” Palestine Mayor Steve Presley told the Herald-Press. “All business should follow them. Everyone needs to continue to practice social distancing and wear mask to keep infections down.”
Presley noted Anderson County has only 23 active cases, as most people with infections have recovered.
“Because our numbers are relatively low and we have more people voluntarily wearing masks, spreading the virus is less likely. We don’t have to mandate that people wear masks in all businesses.”
As of Friday, the city had not decided whether to pull the plug on this year’s 4th of July fireworks display, set for 9 p.m. Friday, July 3, in Palestine's Steven Bennett Park.
“Outdoor gatherings are far less likely to spread the virus,” Presley said. “We are asking people to stay in their cars and keep the proper distance from others.”
In Palestine, Shelton Gin owner Viral Gandhi, like other business owners, worried about the economic impacts of re-closing the state's economy again. “This new shutdown will hurt even more,” he said. “Businesses have spent a lot of money to reopen. With no reopening date in sight, it will cost even more.”
Gandhi thanked State Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) for alerting him of the Governor’s new orders.
“I hope the governor has a financial plan to help bars and restaurants,” Gandhi said. “It will be very difficult to keep everyone's doors open.”
On Monday, Abbott said shutting down the state again would be a last resort.
On Thursday, Abbott began to free up hospital space for coronavirus patients by banning elective surgeries in four of the state's biggest counties: Bexar, Travis, Dallas and Harris.