Texas is allowing more businesses, including retail stores, gyms and restaurants, to push forward with reopening plans after a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations over the summer has started to decline.
Abbott said the state has been divided into 22 regions where officials will monitor hospital capacity and virus cases. In 19 of the 22 regions where Covid-19 patients are now less than 15% of all hospitalizations, more businesses that have been allowed to reopen at 50% capacity will be permitted to increase to 75% capacity beginning Monday, Abbott said.
That includes "all retail stores, all restaurants, all office buildings, all manufacturing, all museums and libraries and all gyms," he said. Effective immediately, hospitals in those regions are allowed to resume elective procedures. Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will be allowed to reopen for visitations beginning Sept. 24 as long as they don't have a coronavirus outbreak, he said.
"Since late July, the spread of Covid-19 has steadily and significantly declined. The number of new cases and new hospitalizations have been cut by more than two-thirds. Just yesterday we had the lowest number of hospitalizations in the past three months," Abbott said.
The three regions not allowed to move forward with their reopenings — the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Victoria — are located in the southern part of the state. Bars will remain closed for all regions as officials try to find ways to reopen them while ensuring the coronavirus transmission can be contained, Abbott said.
Thursday's announcement marks the first time the governor has forged ahead with reopening businesses since allowing a number of them, including bars, to reopen at limited capacity in May. However, cases in Texas began to surge after Memorial Day weekend and by late June, Abbott was forced to close the state's bars and reduce capacity at restaurants, which he said were driving the cases.
On July 2, Abbott ordered residents statewide to wear face coverings in public spaces, with some exceptions, and granted local mayors and county judges the authority to impose restrictions on some outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people. Abbott said Thursday that Texans "must continue the safe practices that slowed the spread this summer," including social distancing and mask wearing.
"Covid does still exist and most Texans remain susceptible," Abbott said during a news conference. "If we fully reopen Texas without limits, without safe practices, it can lead to an unsustainable increase in Covid that would require the possibility of being forced to ratchet back down."
As of Wednesday, Texas had reported 4,186 daily new cases, based on a seven-day moving average — a more than 14% increase compared with the week prior, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
At the peak of the state's outbreak in July, Texas was reporting a seven-day average high of more than 10,500 new cases every day. Texas ranks second among U.S. states in total reported Covid-19 cases at 696,800, following California, according to Johns Hopkins.