Reduced restaurant capacities and an order once more closing bars in Wharton County and the Greater Houston area should be going into effect.
Part of the Gov. Greg Abbott’s COVID disaster response, the rollback takes place when COVID-19 patients account for 15 percent or more of total hospitalizations in a designated state Trauma Service Area for seven consecutive days.
Wharton County is part of Region Q, stretching to The Woodlands, servicing not quite 6.7 million people.
COVID hospitalizations rose over 15 percent for several days around Christmas, but dropped to 13.29 percent Monday, Dec. 28.
Since then, COVID hospitalizations rose steadily from 15.48 percent Tuesday, Dec. 29 to 18.21 percent Sunday, Jan. 3.
Monday, aka the seventh day of the monitoring period, COVID hospitalizations in Region Q were 19.9 percent, according to the Department of State Health Services.
“Bars will close and restaurants will go to 50 percent (capacity),” Wharton County Office of Emergency Management Deputy Coordinator Debbie Cenko said.
The 50 percent restriction level is currently the highest in Texas and now covers many metro areas including Victoria, Galveston, San Antonio, Bryan/College Station, Dallas/Fort Worth and Amarillo.
“I don’t know what (will help enforce safety precautions),” Cenko said. “I feel sorry for the restaurants.”
In El Campo, building size kept Pincher’s owner Craig Radley from going up to 75 percent capacity earlier. “I’ve been at 50 percent ever since we were able to open,” he said Tuesday.
During busy times, the mandatory six-foot spacing between tables can mean long waits for would-be patrons at the 23324 U.S. 59 restaurant.
He can seat just 36 in his main room under the guidelines with another 28 in an enclosed front patio. Radley is lucky enough, however, front patio. Radley is lucky enough, however, to have additional outdoor seating and outdoor heaters to serve more customers.
The full effect on his business is still unknown, but revenue is certainly not at 2019 levels. “When it first hit in March it was terrible,” he said. “Especially at the smaller places. There’s just not enough square footage.”
Radley has removed other tables from the building to ensure safety for his staff and customers.
El Campo bar owner Sheldon Holub isn’t going to have any options. SunnySide Saloon at 1214 South Mechanic will close yet again if the GA-32 level is met. His license is for establishments collecting more than 51 percent of sales from alcohol. His only option would be to try to change that.
“We don’t want to serve food,” he said. “Another shut down is going to be detrimental.”
Holub owns the building, but faces a tax bill at the end of the month along with electricity and utilities.
“I was hoping my business was down 50 percent (in 2019), but it’s down 70 percent of what it used to be. That’s a big impact,” Holub said.
Two entertainers are booked this month, and if the order goes through, those shows will be canceled.
Then there’s the elderly crowd on the late afternoons who gather at the domino tables to play, visit and often choose a bottle of tea over a beer. They once again will be locked out.
“I understand being safe is good, but business-wise, it’s a tragedy. We’ll hold on a little longer,” Holub said. “I don’t want to give up on a business that’s been there for 60 years.
El Campo police officers and Wharton County sheriff’s deputies will be working with businesses to ensure compliance.
“Fortunately in the county, they did what they were supposed to do (during the last bar closure),” Sheriff Shannon Srubar said. “I don’t anticipate any problems.”
Deputies would notify Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents of businesses in non-compliance.
El Campo PD will be responding to complaints, are in the process of reviewing procedures on restaurants that offer late night entertainment and are still reminding people to wear a mask.
“We’ve had great compliance so far,” Chief Gary Williamson said. “I think most people have realized we are in a pandemic.
The Office of Emergency Management reported another spike in positive case counts and notes the results from 334 state COVID tests last Tuesday in Wharton may still not be available.
The county has 141 new positive cases and 81 new recoveries as of the Tuesday report. This equals 236 active cases. Of those, 77 are in El Campo, four in Egypt, three in Louise and one in Pierce and Glen Flora.
The Wharton area has 87 active cases with 33 in East Bernard, 12 in Boling, 15 in Hungerford, one in Lane City and two in Lissie.
The county department reports 67 COVID deaths in Wharton County while the state puts that number at 75.