COVID-19 Regulations Rollback Triggered as Texas Freezes

While many Texans have been staying in their homes because of the statewide freeze, COVID-19 regulations in most parts of the state have been rolled back under Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order.

Counties in the state’s Trauma Service Areas (TSAs) for the Houston, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco, and Lufkin areas all dropped below the 15 percent hospitalization threshold in Abbott’s order for seven consecutive days.

Most businesses in those regions, as well as in the Austin TSA and most of East and West Texas that met the requirements earlier, are now permitted to reopen at 75 percent of their maximum capacity instead of 50 percent.

If permitted by county executives, bars in those regions will be allowed to open at half capacity.

Hospitals are also permitted to resume elective operations.

Notably, while most TSAs have dipped below the requirement for COVID-19 patients to account for 15 percent or less of the total hospital capacity for the region, the current number of hospitalized coronavirus patients in several border regions and the TSAs covering Victoria and Galveston is still too high.

The Galveston TSA nearly fell below the 15 percent mark for seven consecutive days but reached 15.06 percent on Saturday.

If the numbers in that region continue trending downward, restrictions should be lifted next week.

The Victoria and Lower Rio Grande Valley TSAs similarly have seen the key metric fall below 15 percent in the most recently reported days, but the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has not reported new data on Wednesday or Thursday of this week because of power outages.

The El Paso TSA is down significantly from the high number of hospitalizations seen in November but has been consistently reporting numbers a few percent higher than the target.

COVID-19 hospitalizations remain the highest in the Laredo TSA at around 30 percent, though significantly down from the near-50 percent seen in January.

Statewide, coronavirus hospitalizations account for 12 percent of the total capacity, down from a high of 23 percent in early January but not quite as low as the 5 percent seen in September between the summer and winter waves of cases.

Other COVID-19 metrics reported by DSHS show a significant decline in the spread of the virus as well.

New confirmed cases are down to a seven-day rolling average of around 5,000, which was last seen in late October as new cases began to rise.

The positivity rate for molecular tests dropped from 21 percent at the beginning of January to 10 percent, and similarly, the positivity rate for antigen tests dropped from 14 percent in early January to four percent.

Texas’ decline in cases and testing positivity rate comes as the state continues to administer more vaccinations.

Six million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been allotted to the state, with 4.3 million doses administered. Of those, 3 million people have received at least one dose while 1.3 million have received the full two doses.

The recent blizzard has caused some chaos and delays in the administration of the vaccine.

When a public health department building in Harris County lost power and was at risk of losing over 8,000 refrigerated vaccines, county officials scrambled to distribute them as quickly as possible.

According to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo during a press conference, the Harris County Jail received 3,000 of the doses, several hospitals received 1,600, and Rice University received 810.

Hidalgo said that the remaining doses were re-refrigerated per special guidance from the vaccine manufacturer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is partnering with the state to set up mass vaccination sites in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, according to a press release from the governor.

Those sites were expected to open to the public next week, but it is unclear if there will be any delays due to the weather or recovery from the storm.

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