Citing a continued decline in the rate of hospitalizations throughout the state, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a pair of executive orders on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, aimed at easing restrictions on businesses and hospitals throughout the state. Most notably, most businesses throughout the state will be allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity beginning Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.
Executive Order GA-30’s Expanded Occupancy Levels
Since June 28, 2020, Texas businesses have been allowed to reopen, but only at 50 percent capacity of their facilities. Under Executive Order GA-30, restaurants, retail stores, nonessential office buildings and manufacturing facilities, gyms and exercise facilities and classes, museums, and libraries will be allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity of their indoor facilities. The order also completely eliminates occupancy limitations on outdoor areas, establishments and venues, including restaurant patios and outdoor dining areas, as long as social distancing is maintained between different groups. Bars, however, will remain closed, since they are considered hot spots for the spread of COVID-19.
When determining the number of individuals allowed in an establishment under the new, expanded occupancy levels, restaurants, retail stores, gyms, museums and libraries will not have to include employees and staff in their capacity headcounts. However, employees and staff of businesses in office locales and manufacturing facilities will be counted for purposes of determining those businesses allowable occupancy levels.
Executive Order 30 also eliminates occupancy limits on cosmetology salons, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, massage establishments, tanning salons, tattoo parlors, piercing studios, hair removal services and hair-loss treatment centers as long as they maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet between each work station.
The only exception to the expanded occupancy levels are establishments located in the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Victoria, which are still experiencing hospitalization rates above 15 percent and therefore will remain subject to the 50 percent occupancy levels that have been in effect since June 26, 2020.
Businesses Still Will Be Subject to Restrictions of Large Groups, a Face Mask Mandate and DSHS Minimum Health Protocols
Although businesses will be allowed to operate at increased capacities, they still will be subject to certain restrictions of large groups. Specifically, Executive Order 30 prohibits both indoor and outdoor gatherings of groups larger than 10 people, except for those that are approved by the mayor or country judge. Restaurants are still prohibited from seating tables of more than 10 people and must also continue to maintain social distancing between tables and groups both indoors and outdoors.
The order also makes clear that Executive Order GA-29, which requires all Texans to wear a face covering in public spaces, is still in effect. Therefore, businesses must still require all employees and customers to wear face coverings whenever social distancing is not feasible, except when customers are seated in a restaurant to eat or drink.
Under the order, all businesses operating at the new expanded occupancy levels are still required to use good-faith efforts and available resources to follow the applicable Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) minimum health protocols to the extent possible. In conjunction with the news of the expanded capacity limits, the DSHS issued new minimum health protocols for all employers as well as specific minimum health protocols for office-based employers, retailers, manufacturers, gym and exercise facilities, restaurants, movie theaters, museums and libraries, video game facilities, zoos, aquariums, and amusement park operators. While each of these protocols includes industry-specific guidance, they all recommend that businesses adopt the following protocols to help protect the health and safety of their employees, contractors and customers:
- Continue to encourage employees to work remotely where possible.
- Train all employees on appropriate cleaning, disinfection, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
- Before they come into the business, screen employees and contractors for symptoms of COVID-19 and send home any employee or contractor with new or worsening symptoms.
- Prohibit employees or contractors with known close contact with a person who is confirmed to have COVID-19 to return to work until the end of a 14-day self-quarantine period measured from the last date of exposure.
- Conduct temperature checks on employees and contractors where feasible.
- Require employees and contractors to wash or sanitize their hands upon entering the business, and make hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water readily available to employees, contractors and customers.
- Have employees maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing between each other to the extent possible, or install dividers or other engineered controls between employees.
- Stagger start and end times and break schedules to minimize close interaction between employees.
- Regularly and frequently clean and disinfect regularly touched surfaces.
- Disinfect items that come into contact with customers.
- Clean and sanitize the facility on a daily basis.
- Place visible signage around the business reminding employees and customers of best hygiene practices.
Under the order, businesses may implement additional hygiene measures and procedures and are not precluded from requiring customers to follow additional hygiene measures in order to obtain services.
Restrictions Are Loosened on Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities as Well as on Elective Medical Procedures
In addition to reopening businesses throughout the state, effective Thursday, Sept. 24, nursing homes, long-term care facilities and assisted-living facilities also can return to normal visitation as long as there is no COVID-19 outbreak and certain health protocols are followed. In addition, the governor has announced that hospitals may resume elective medical procedures.