The Second Wave Hits Texas

In May, Texas became one of the first states to let their stay-at-home orders expire so nonessential businesses like restaurants could resume in-person transactions. For months, food service establishments have gone without dine-in operations and stayed afloat only through takeout and delivery services, if they remained open at all.

Now, after a month and a half of businesses opening one by one and the general public readjusting to how life was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit U.S. soil, restaurants have to contend with a new possibility: That they’re experiencing the forewarned second wave, right as they’re getting used to full service again.

How are restaurants operating now?

Recently, Texas allowed restaurants to operate at 75% capacity and bars to open at 50% capacity. This accommodates more customers especially since restaurants can now space tables four feet apart instead of six, although officials recommend putting a partition or some other kind of barrier between neighboring tables.

These new, looser regulations are extremely beneficial for small businesses who often don’t have the physical space to accommodate 75% capacity while maintaining six feet of distance between customers. Nonetheless health experts recommend the six foot rule to avoid the spread of germs, and reducing the requirements presents a serious health concern: Even if Texas saw a steady decline in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases over several weeks, which they haven’t, the six foot rule would still be necessary to keep people from getting sick. Safety regulations like that don’t positively correlate with lower COVID-19 cases; requisite distance doesn’t decrease just because case numbers do.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Texan health officials report that the general public has gotten more lax too; fewer people wear masks, social distance properly and take sanitation measures seriously—even simple precautions like frequent hand washing. On Friday, June 12th, Texas reported the highest number of new cases since the pandemic started, a grim finish for a week that broke the record for the most positive COVID-19 tests to date, too.

Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, TX sees a relation between relaxed safety precautions and the uptick in confirmed cases: “We have a lot of people out there living their lives like the virus is over. It would be less of a concern if people were wearing face coverings and maintain that six-foot distancing.”

Unfortunately, the Texas Restaurant Association doesn’t believe that allowing more people to dine-in will solve restaurants’ financial troubles like they hope, which means they’re risking exposure for nothing: The TRA predicts the ongoing pandemic will ultimately cause 25-30% of restaurants to close permanently. Even those that have stayed afloat by taking advantage of pickup and delivery services, or by implementing other creative revenue streams, have had to shut down when the months of struggle finally took their toll. It doesn’t look like limited capacity is enough to offset the public’s ongoing fear of the virus.

How can restaurants control the spread?

Austin, TX and surrounding areas have reached Stage 4 of the public risk chart, basically meaning that they have a moving average of more than twenty new hospitalizations each week.

As a result, the city reiterated its safety recommendations in the hopes that people take the pandemic more seriously again, despite increasing restlessness causing people to break self-quarantine. They recommend that people pay more attention to personal hygiene, that they stay home if they’re sick or displaying any symptoms, and that they avoid anyone who has tested positive for the virus. Health officials also urge continued social distancing and for everyone to cover their faces when they go out in public; despite state and local regulations easing, experts strongly recommend avoiding any social gatherings, meeting with more than two people and doing any traveling that isn’t strictly essential.

In hopes of impressing this more seriously on the public, Mayor Adler sent out a letter over the weekend warning Austin residents of the impending surge in cases; advanced notice might suppress certain behaviors that could overwhelm hospitals in the coming weeks. He specifically indicated that restaurants reopening to greater capacity has and will continue to spread COVID-19, thus contributing to these impending hospital admissions. Nevertheless, there have been no policies passed to back the warnings.

On June 15th, Austin officials held a press conference to address the community’s concerns. They discussed new and revised protection orders alike, aimed at slowing hospitalization rates as well as further spread of the virus. They want to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system when the second wave hits in full force as it’s already, inevitably, begun to do.

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A new Texas moving forward

Small businesses experienced COVID-19 outbreaks on a small scale, when staff and customers tested positive just a few weeks after doors reopened. However some affected restaurants and bars around Austin only closed for two days, not weeks like health experts recommend. When the second wave hits in full force, they might find themselves blocked from hasty reopening by legal policies put in place.

Other states should take note, particularly ones that reopened early like Texas did or who are experiencing similarly record-breaking caseloads as the second wave rolls in a few weeks after reopening nonessential businesses, right as the incubation period ends. States like Georgia, Arizona and Arkansas need to start trying to avoid overburdening their healthcare systems, too. Although preemptive action can’t control the amount of people who have surely been affected already in the month and a half since nonessential businesses reopened, it can prevent an even greater number of cases from pouring in over upcoming weeks.

Even states that have remained diligent throughout the pandemic should beware reopening the economy before meeting federal health standards. Make sure to have a steady downturn in new cases, control the spread and see fewer deaths before taking measures that will not only endanger citizens’ health but also necessitate a resurgence in stringent quarantine measures, effectively resetting the clock on three months of hard work.

Dear fellow Americans: Buckle in for a long, sheltered summer. It’s time to flatten the curve once again.

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