Cedar Park and Leander officials who were interviewed support Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent announcement easing restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic—as long as data supports continued relaxing of social distancing.

On June 3, Abbott introduced his third phase to reopening Texas businesses and activities. Nearly all businesses were shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Abbott’s announcement allows almost all businesses to operate at 50% capacity with social distancing and more rigorous cleaning procedures. Also, restaurants, which were already allowed to use up to 50% capacity, can increase to 75% capacity on June 12.

“As with previous phases, the Phase III plan is based on the advice and support of the four doctors on the Strike Force to Open Texas medical team,” the news release said.

Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale said he welcomed the next reopening phase.

“I'm glad our employers are getting to improve their financial situation. They've been going through one of the most difficult, unpredictable economic circumstances in memory,” Van Arsdale said. “And, of course, I'm glad the COVID recovery rates continue to trend positively—which is what's allowing these businesses to open in the first place.”

Abbott says his phased reopenings are based on scientific data, but residents and business owners have varying degrees of comfortability with the relaxing of social distancing suggestions.

Some restaurants opted not to open when customer seating was capped at 25% and then upped to 50%.

“Businesses and customers are moving at the pace allowed and the pace they are comfortable with moving,” said Tony Moline, the Cedar Park Chamber of Commerce president/CEO. “The businesses and customers who have not opened, or participated as much as is allowed, are doing things they are comfortable doing. Be patient and understanding.”

Leander Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Bridget Brandt also welcomed Abbott’s next reopening phase.

“We are elated at the latest announcement,” Brandt said. “It is time for us to begin reopening safely, and I am confident that our businesses can rise to the occasion.”

Restaurants that did not see enough financial incentive to open to 50% capacity may do so when 75% seating is allowed, officials said.

"I’ve heard different messages from customers," Moline said. "You have the customer who never thought restaurants should have closed and was first in line to get out on a patio at their favorite location. You also have the customer that wants to support our local eateries and continues to do so by having curbside or takeout. And then you have the customer who just isn’t comfortable with eating out yet. It is mixed."

“Our restaurants are prepared and ready to begin serving their customers again,” Brandt said. “This has been very challenging for many of them, and I know they are thankful for the loyalty and dedication that the community has showed.”

Other businesses are reopening as well. Spouses Tom and Lauren Davis, as well as Joey Suarez, co-own the Splash Shack, an indoor water park in Cedar Park that has been closed since March.

"Next week, we'll be 13 weeks being closed,” Suarez said June 4.

They plan to reopen the facility June 12 at the allowed 50% capacity, which would be 225 people for the facility.

Although most of the Splash Shack staff had to be laid off, the majority have been rehired for the opening due in part to the business qualifying for the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Tom Davis said they have used the shutdown to add a third level of water sanitation.

“You’re not going to see this kind of quality at public or private pools,” Suarez said.

City facilities

On June 6, the city of Leander will begin a phased reopening of public spaces and pools.

Abbott's June 3 announcement also allows professional sports played outside to increase from 25% to 50% capacity. College sports played outdoors will be allowed to resume at 50% capacity for the first time since the pandemic.

Except for Easter weekend, city parks in Cedar Park have remained open, according to city spokesperson Jennie Huerta. The city gradually reopened other city-owned facilities May 8, May 18 and May 26, when the Cedar Park Recreation Center reopened some of its amenities, though reservations are required.

City and business officials interviewed were grateful for the community’s patience.

“I just really want to thank all of our residents and our businesses for how they've been handling this unprecedented time,” Van Arsdale said. “There was no manual. We were all writing that manual as we went. They've been patient, responsible, mature, unselfish, resilient—just fantastic. I just can't express enough to them my appreciation for that.”

Leander Mayor Troy Hill did not respond to questions emailed to him for this story.