Bars are being closed again in Comal County and businesses that have been operating at 75% capacity will have to trim that to 50% as the area battles a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
City and county officials warned about the possibility ahead of the Christmas holiday and the tighter state-required restrictions arrived on Monday afternoon after Comal County officials received word from the state that its trauma service area has exceeded 15% of total hospital capacity with COVID-19 patients for the last seven days.
Comal and Guadalupe counties are both in Trauma Service Area P, which is a 22-county region that includes San Antonio and extends southwest to the Mexico border.
“This pandemic has been extremely challenging for many of our businesses, and these new restrictions are even more difficult,” Comal County Judge Sherman Krause said in a statement. “We hope these limitations help bring the virus under control, and more importantly, are short-lived so our community can get back to supporting our economy.”
The new capacity restrictions apply to restaurants, retail stores, gyms, offices, museums, libraries, amusement parks, swimming pools, zoos, aquariums and similar facilities. They also suspend all elective surgeries in Comal County.
There is no occupancy limit on certain types of activities, including religious services, local government operations, including county and municipal, governmental operations relating to licensing (including marriage licenses), permitting, recordation, and document-filing services, as determined by the local government, child-care services, youth camps, including all summer camps and other daytime and overnight camps for youths, recreational sports programs for youths and adults, any public or private schools, and any public or private institutions of higher education, drive-in concerts, movies or similar events.
There is also no occupancy limit for some establishments that operate with at least 6 feet of social distancing between workstations, including cosmetology salons, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons/shops, massage establishments and other personal-care and beauty services such as tanning salons, tattoo studios, piercing studios, hair removal services, and hair loss treatment and growth services.
The new restrictions go into place immediately, county officials said.
The area passed the 15% threshold on Dec. 21 with 15.13% and continued above that number through Dec. 27 where its percentage was at 15.97%. It peaked at 16.88% on Dec. 26.
The new restrictions will be lifted and capacity will return to 75% once the area is below the 15% threshold for seven consecutive days.
The public can find more data on hospitalizations at dshs.texas.gov/ga3031/
Because of the Christmas holiday, Comal County didn't release any new virus data on Monday. It is expected to resume those releases on Tuesday morning.
Over the last two weeks local hospital use and the number of locals hospitalized with COVID-19 have both climbed, with the number of COVID patients in area hospitals reaching numbers last seen during the summer spike.
Front line health care professionals in Comal County began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine Monday through Public Health. The Comal County Public Health Department received an allotment of 200 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines as part of the Tier 1A distribution plan.
“This is an exciting day for Comal County Public Health”, said Public Health Director Cheryl Fraser. “Our front line health care professionals are working non-stop to ensure the safety of our residents. They are putting their own lives at risk to help others and now we have a vaccine that is going to help protect them. Our healthcare systems are strained with the high number of COVID-19 patients being cared for, this will help to keep our healthcare facilities staffed.”
Once the vaccine has been given to essential workers, the Comal County Health Department will begin vaccinating people in group 1B. This group includes people who are 65 and older and people who are 18 and older with qualifying chronic medical conditions.
Vaccinations for the general public could be available in late February or early March and as late as May.
Last week, both New Braunfels hospitals began vaccinating some of their staff. CHRISTUS Santa Rosa - New Braunfels also began to vaccinate some local first responders.