Rising Hospitalizations Trigger Tightened Restrictions for 19 North Texas Counties

Jackson Walker
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Jackson Walker

As Texas Governor Greg Abbott relaxed restrictions meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 across the state in recent months, he left in place a safety valve of sorts that has tightened restrictions on businesses and hospitals across North Texas effective December 4, 2020.

Abbott’s catch-all Executive Order GA-32—which sets operating capacities for various businesses, requires the use of masks in public, and bans large gatherings, among other things—imposes tighter control on regions are designated “areas with high hospitalizations.” A region of the state (formally dubbed a “Trauma Service Area”) qualifies as an “area with high hospitalizations” when the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the region exceeds 15% of total hospital capacity in the region for seven days in a row. The Department of State Health Services determined that Trauma Service Area E (TSA-E), which includes Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, Denton, Ellis, and 15 other contiguous counties, reached this milestone late Thursday, December 3.

As a result, under GA-32, the COVID-19 restrictions previously in effect in TSA-E are revised as follows:

  • Business establishments previously allowed to operate at up to 75% of total listed occupancy may now operate at a maximum of 50% of total listed occupancy.
  • The following outdoor activities previously allowed to operate at up to 75% of normal operating limits are now restricted to 50% of normal operating limits:
    • Amusement parks
    • Water parks
    • Swimming pools
    • Museums and libraries
    • Zoos, aquariums, natural caverns, and “similar facilities”
  • Bars in TSA-E must close, unless (a) located in a county with very low COVID-19 hospitalizations whose county judge has filed the required documentation with the Department of State Health Services, or (b) operating as a restaurant with less than 51% of gross receipts from the sale of alcohol.

Additionally, under Executive Order GA-31, most hospitals in TSA-E must now postpone elective surgeries and procedures that would deplete hospital capacity needed to cope with COVID-19. Elective procedures, for purposes of GA-31, are defined as those that are not medically necessary to diagnose or correct a serious medical condition, or preserve the life, of a patient who is at risk of serious adverse medical consequences or death without the procedure. If such a surgery or procedure would not deplete hospital capacity needed to cope with COVID-19, it is not affected by the rollback in TSA-E.

The change from 75% occupancy to 50% occupancy does not impact businesses and other activities that were not subject to the higher occupancy limit, including:

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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