Yesterday, Governor Greg Abbott announced plans to continue Texas’ reopening process after the coronavirus pandemic brought public activity in much of the state to a halt earlier this year.
Executive Order GA-30 allows businesses in most of the state that were previously authorized to operate at 50% capacity to move to 75% capacity—starting Monday, September 21. This includes retail stores, restaurants, gyms, office buildings, museums and libraries, as long as they are located in a county that does not have “high hospitalizations” for COVID-19. As of September 17, the Department of State Health Services identifies just 3 of 22 hospital regions—those generally covering the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, and Victoria areas—as having “high hospitalizations.” As a result, businesses in those areas do not enjoy the loosening of restrictions in GA-30. The DSHS list of areas with high hospitalizations is located here, and may be updated. GA-30 also adds public and private schools and drive-in venues and events to the list of businesses and other activities allowed to operate with no occupancy restrictions statewide, removes occupancy caps at hair salons and similar personal services businesses that maintain six feet of social distancing between work stations, and reiterates prior bans on many outdoor gatherings and groups of more than 10 people.
For now, Texas bars must remain closed, with the exception of bars that have been reclassified as a restaurant under the updated TABC rules. Amusement parks must stay at 50% capacity.
A previous executive order, GA-19, required most hospitals to reserve 15% of bed capacity for COVID-19 patients. Executive Order GA-31 reduces that percentage to 10%. It also allows hospital systems to act as a group in achieving the required COVID capacity rather than requiring every hospital in the system to set aside 10% of beds. The order allows hospitals in designated areas to resume elective surgeries, effective immediately.
Finally, Governor Greg Abbott has directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to expand visitation options for eligible nursing, assisted living, and intermediate care facilities, home and community-based service providers, and inpatient hospice, effective on Thursday, September 24. HHSC’s updated emergency rules will allow a designated essential caregiver to provide “supportive, hands-on care to facility residents who do not have COVID-19,” according to a press release from HHSC.
Under the new rules, residents will be allowed to designate up to two essential family caregivers who will be provided necessary training to allow them to safely go inside a facility for a scheduled visit, including in the resident’s room, to help ensure their loved one’s physical, social, and emotional needs are being met. Designated caregivers will not be required to maintain physical distancing, but only one caregiver can visit a resident at a time.
A long-term care facility resident (or legal representative) can designate the essential caregiver, who can be a family member, friend, or other individual. Facilities are required to train essential caregivers on the proper use of personal protective equipment and other infection control measures. Proper PPE must be used at all times during these scheduled visits, and the caregiver must test negative for COVID-19 within the previous 14 days before the initial visit.
For general visitors who are not a designated essential caregiver, these updated emergency rules will allow approved nursing facilities to schedule indoor visitation with the use of plexiglass safety barriers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Physical contact between residents and general visitors will still not be permitted, and facilities must also continue to meet all additional visitation requirements outlined in the emergency rules.
HHSC is expected to post the emergency rules this week that will clarify these health and safety requirements to allow visitations. Executive Order GA-31 also carries forward the Governor’s prior suspension of certain statutes regarding the layout and equipping of certain medical facilities.