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Much of the Houston area could be facing rollbacks, including closing bars again

It’ll happen if the COVID-19 hospitalization rate remains above 15% of hospital capacity for one more consecutive day.

As COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb, the Houston region is on the verge of reaching a new critical point.

“Right now, the 14-day average is off the charts at 1,700 new cases on average reported every single day,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order states that if Trauma Service Area Q – which includes Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Austin, Colorado, Matagorda, Walker, Waller and Wharton Counties – has seven consecutive days of COVID-19 hospitalizations above 15% of total hospital capacity, certain indoor businesses will have to go back to 50% occupancy and elective surgeries will have to stop. Bars will also have to close.

“We are getting perilously close to that,” Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse said.

On Monday, the region reported its sixth straight day with COVID-19 hospitalizations over 15%, coming in at 18.21%. The state reports the previous day’s numbers, so that percentage was for Sunday.

“Things are getting worse,” Hidalgo said. “Things are not improving, and this may just be the tip of the iceberg.”

Other trauma service areas around the Houston area have already rolled back re-openings. The region that includes Brazoria, Chambers, and Galveston Counties had to roll back, as did the region that includes Liberty, Grimes, and Brazos counties.

The rollbacks are part of Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32, which was signed back in October to expand business openings. Indoor businesses can go back to 75% capacity and elective surgeries can resume when the number drops below 15% for seven consecutive days.

“Obviously I welcome the governor’s threshold, but I’m concerned it’s not enough and likely a little too late,” Hidalgo said.

A spokeswoman for Abbott says shutting down bars and a slight reduction in capacity at restaurants worked in places like El Paso and Midland-Odessa. If Houston’s rollback is triggered, they’re confident it can work again.

A region must then stay below 15% COVID hospitalizations for seven straight days for bars to reopen and restrictions to be lifted. Officials expect hospitalizations to keep climbing and if that happens, deaths will spike, too.

“In July, 1,200 people died in that single month. This (month) could very well be worse than that,” Hidalgo said.