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COVID surge tightens restrictions in Brazos County
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COVID surge tightens restrictions in Brazos County

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A surge in COVID-19-related hospitalizations across the Brazos Valley has triggered tighter restrictions on restaurants and retail businesses, closed area bars and halted elective medical procedures in the region.

Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said the change will take place immediately.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order issued on Oct. 7 allowed bars to reopen, restaurants and businesses to operate at 75% occupancy and elective medical procedures to resume. But the order called for those reopenings to be rolled back if an area’s virus-related hospitalization rate exceeded 15% for seven consecutive days.

On Monday, state health officials said the COVID-19 hospitalization rate in Trauma Service Area N, which includes Brazos County and six surrounding counties, was 17.84%. That rate has been over 15% since Dec. 22.

Peters said he received a letter from the state informing him of the county’s inclusion in an “area of high hospitalization” Monday afternoon, and he planned to rescind his request to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Tuesday morning that allowed bars to operate.

Bars that changed their operations to serve as restaurants will be allowed to remain open at 50% capacity.

The scaled-back operations will remain in place until the hospitalization rate falls below 15% for seven consecutive days.

Brazos County did not qualify for an exemption from the order because of the number of COVID-19 cases reported in the county over the past 14 days.

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“I’m disappointed that we reached that level because there’s a lot of businesses that have struggled through this whole thing,” Peters said.

Peters said there is no doubt that the number of positive cases is increasing, and the governor’s order is an attempt to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

“I suspect that everybody is having COVID fatigue, but we all still need to try to do the things to try to keep us as healthy and as safe as we can be and do the social distancing and the masks and all those sorts of things and try not to congregate in large numbers,” he said.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there were 109 lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients in area hospitals on Monday; 150 hospital beds and three intensive care unit beds were available in the seven-county region on Monday.

Barry Ivins, owner of Carney’s Pub and Grill in Bryan and the Corner Bar in College Station, said the rollback will not have a dramatic effect on his businesses because it is a slow time of year. Both bars got approval from TABC to operate as restaurants and will be allowed to remain open at 50% capacity.

“The truth of the matter is, during Christmas holidays and the break, we can’t even get to 50%,” he said. “There’s only one day in between this break that we really thought we’d have any business, and that’s this coming Thursday.”

Ivins did not advertise a New Year’s Eve celebration, and he said he is looking at it as “whatever happens, happens.”

Dealing with the pandemic has been difficult he said.

“We need help. We need the business, but safety is obviously first,” he said. “We do need to get these numbers down.”

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