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High COVID-19 Hospitalizations To Trigger Stricter Business Restrictions In Central Texas

Customers line up to order at Home Slice Pizza on South Congress.
Customers line up to order at Home Slice Pizza on South Congress.

Central Texas businesses will soon be required to limit their occupancy and bars will be ordered to close after COVID-19 hospitalizations reached a critical threshold on Sunday.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued executive orders in the fallallowing businesses to operate at 75% capacity and elective surgeries to resume. Restrictions can be stricter in regions with high COVID-19 hospitalizations, however.

Texas counties are divided up into 22 regions called trauma service areas. When COVID-19 hospitalizations make up more than 15% of total hospital capacity in a TSA for seven days straight, new restrictions are triggered: Businesses operating at 75% capacity must revert to 50% capacity; bars have to stop offering on-site service; and hospitals must pause elective surgeries.

Trauma Service Area O, which includes much of Central Texas, met that 15% threshold for seven consecutive days on Sunday.

Abbott's order seems to suggest that these restrictions automatically go into effect. But Austin Mayor Steve Adler and a spokesperson for Travis County Judge Andy Brown told KUT Sunday that the state has to notify municipalities first. Adler said he expects a letter from the state confirming new regulations Monday or Tuesday.

Trauma Service Area O includes the following counties:

  • Bastrop
  • Blanco
  • Burnet
  • Caldwell
  • Fayette
  • Hays
  • Lee
  • Llano
  • San Saba
  • Travis
  • Williamson

In a newsletter sent out Sunday, Adler warned of increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Austin area and asked residents to stay at home as often as possible.

"Austin Public Health is recommending businesses allow employees to work from home and for restaurants and retail to transition to take away, delivery, or drive-through services only," Adler wrote in a newsletter Sunday.

Austin and Travis County have begun preparing the alternate care site set up at the city's convention center to help open up beds at local hospitals. The site was created during the first COVID surge in the summer, but has not yet taken any patients.

The site will be able to take in patients as soon as staffing is in place, officials said Saturday. Jason Pickett, the alternate health authority for Austin-Travis County, said officials believe it is inevitable that Central Texas' health care system will "soon be overwhelmed."

“When we exceed capacity, we will do so not only for COVID patients, but for all individuals needing hospital care in this community," Pickett said in a press release. "We need this community to take substantial steps now to avoid a catastrophic surge.”

Under the governor's order, occupancy limits don’t apply to religious services, government operations, child care facilities, recreational sports, schools or drive-in venues.

Individual counties within a TSA that have low COVID-19 cases can apply for approval to let bars stay open and businesses operate at 75% capacity, the order says.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit .


Marisa Charpentier
Audrey McGlinchy is the City Hall reporter at KUT, covering the Austin City Council and the policies they discuss. She comes to Texas from Brooklyn, where she tried her hand at publishing, public relations and nannying. Audrey holds English and journalism degrees from Wesleyan University and the City University of New York. She got her start in journalism as an intern at KUT Radio during a summer break from graduate school. While completing her master's degree in New York City, she interned at the New York Times Magazine and Guernica Magazine.