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Austin-area hospitalization trend means businesses could soon have to roll back capacity

Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order, businesses must operate at 50% capacity if COVID-19 patients exceed 15% of hospital capacity for seven consecutive days.

AUSTIN, Texas — Businesses in Central Texas could soon have to roll back capacity limits under the governor’s executive order as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge to record levels.

According to Gov. Greg Abbott’s order, businesses must operate at no more than 50% once COVID-19 patients exceed 15% of the area's total hospital capacity for seven consecutive days.

The Austin-area hospitalization rate surpassed 15% on Sunday, Jan. 3, and has increased since then. A rollback of capacity is anticipated on Sunday as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Central Texas. Under Abbott’s order, those businesses are currently allowed to operate at 75%.

The order also mandates bars and other establishments that are not restaurants cannot operate indoor services, but may offer drive-thru, pickup or delivery options. Social distancing and other safety protocols must be followed for outdoor services.

The rollback does not apply to businesses such as religious services, local government operations, child care services, youth camps, recreation sports programs for youth and adults, public or private schools, and drive-in concerts, movies or similar events.

“It has never been more crucial for us as a community to reduce the spread of this virus,” said Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell on Thursday.

“We all must consistently follow the personal protective measures we have been emphasizing throughout the course of this pandemic. Please wear a mask, watch your distance around people outside your household, and wash your hands frequently. This is the best way to keep ourselves and our family members safe and reduce the number of people being hospitalized daily,” added Gravell.

As of Wednesday, Jan. 6, the Austin area had a record 656 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, making up 19% of total capacity. Just a month earlier, on Dec. 5, there were 278 COVID-19 patients in Austin-area hospitals. Available hospital capacity is down to a new low of 9%.

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