CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Two-and-a-half months after tightening guidelines for businesses, Gov. Greg Abbott is easing back on some of the state's COVID-19 restrictions.
Thursday's executive orders give certain businesses a little more elbow room, while also providing new guidance for visits to nursing homes and long-term health-care facilities.
“Business categories that currently have a 50-percent capacity can increase to a 75-percent capacity,” Abbott said during a press conference in Austin on Thursday.
The governor's announcement came as music to several restaurant owners’ ears.
“I’m glad he did it, I think it’s the right time to do it,” said Jordan Jaradat, owner of South Side eateries Chops & Eggs, and Ginger Cafe.
The governor’s June decision to scale back to 50-percent capacity was a costly one for both Jaradat and his staff.
“At the beginning we got hit very badly, but after that I think people started understanding, capacity-wise,” Jaradat said.
However, not every restaurant is embracing the new standards.
“We have 22 tables, and 25 percent is fine with us," said Sandi's Diner owner Sandra Clark. "We’re doing good.”
Even though the state had allowed 50-percent capacity in restaurants, Clark made the decision to stay at 25 percent.
“I think I’m going to stay at 25 percent, just to be safe, and then we’ll look day-by-day beyond that; but for right now, we’re OK,” she said.
In order to keep capacity at 75 percent, COVID-19 patients have to make up fewer than 15% of admitted hospital patients. As of Thursday, Nueces County’s Hospital District was at 12.2 percent.
Only three hospital districts -- the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, and Victoria -- are currently above the 15-percent threshold.
However, bars will stay closed unless they have a commercial kitchen, according to recent Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulations. Bars were cited as a major contributor for the state’s surge in cases during the summer.
“We need to work with the bars on effective strategies that will ensure that when they do open, the possibility of spread of COVID(-19) is contained,” said Abbott.
Thursday's orders keep them shut until a safe way can be found to re-open them. One bar owner called Abbott’s decision “a joke.”
Bar owners feel unfairly singled out again, as they did in June, when they were forced to shut down with four-hours notice.
“It’s preposterous for (Gov.) Abbott not to treat bars and restaurants the same,” said Nueces Brewing Company co-owner Brandon Harper. “It really is just common sense, there’s no reason to bankrupt bars.”