The Texas Department of State Health Services sent letters to 19 county judges in North Texas on Feb. 17 informing them of the lifted restrictions, according to DSHS spokesperson Lara Anton. “[Trauma Service Area E] no longer meets the definition of a high hospitalization area and so [it] may reopen to the higher levels allowable under GA-32,” the letter stated.
Per GA-32, an executive order issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in October, municipal governments are required to tighten capacity restrictions for most businesses if COVID-19 patients occupy 15% or more of the available hospital beds for seven consecutive days in their specific Trauma Service Area. North Texas is part of Trauma Service E, which consists of 19 counties.
On Dec. 3, when Trauma Service Area E passed the 15% threshold for seven consecutive days, restaurants and most businesses were required to reduce capacity from 75% to 50%, and bars were required to close. Per Abbott’s order, businesses are allowed to increase capacity once COVID-19 hospitalizations for the area are below 15% for seven days in a row.
Data reported for Feb. 9-15 showed that threshold was met, allowing bars to reopen and many businesses to return to 75% capacity.
Tony Felker, CEO and president of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce, said the increase in dining and commerce will improve the health of the local economy.
“We're very glad now to see that [hospitalization] rate drop,” Felker said, adding that more diners and shoppers out and about will mean more “sales revenue and more people at work or dollars in the economy.”
Felker said the loosened restrictions will not change the daily operations and capacity of some Frisco businesses, though, because of continued safety practices.
“We actually found that many [Frisco businesses] were not operating at—or even near—75% [capacity] because of the social distance restrictions,” Felker said. “More of them are implementing Plexiglas partitions and other mechanisms to increase capacity but still keep their customers.”
Justin Bramblett, general manager of Kelly's Craft Tavern in Frisco, said the increased capacity will enable him to hire more employees. In preparation for this, Kelly’s has also added more outdoor seating.
“We're looking forward to March, once the weather heats up,” Bramblett said. “We've invested in that [outdoor seating] portion of our establishment. We have [also] been hiring up the last couple months ... and we will keep on hiring as soon as the weather heats up more.”
Capacity levels go into effect immediately, but many businesses have remained this week closed due to the winter weather.
Although capacity restrictions are loosening in North Texas, COVID-19 hospitalizations still remain high in some parts of the region. COVID-19 patients still occupy more than or nearly 15% of hospital beds in Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties as of Feb. 15. Dallas County’s COVID-19 patients account for 12.9% of county hospital beds, according to Feb. 15 data.