Comal River Tubing

Patrons lounge at the Comal River on Friday, May 15, 2020.

MIKALA COMPTON | Herald-Zeitung

Commercial rafting and tubing businesses, a mainstay of the New Braunfels tourism industry, must close under an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Abbott issued the order as the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and the number of hospitalizations increased statewide.

The state's positivity rate has increased above 10%, which the governor previously said would lead to further preventative action.

Comal County has also seen a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, as well as its positivity rate, the daily percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in relation to the total number of people tested that day.

County health officials on Friday reported 48 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 for a total of 552 since the pandemic began.

Comal County's positivity rate is now 9.2%, up from 8.47% on Thursday and 6.27% one week ago. It's the highest positivity rate in the county since April 10.

Public health experts say the goal is to hold the positivity rate below 6%.

State officials said the targeted, measured directives in the order "are based on links between certain types of businesses and services and the recent rise in positive cases throughout the state."

River outfitters were using social media on Friday to keep floaters informed on the closures.

"We're so sorry for all the chaos and stress that this has caused everyone, we're completely stressed out too," a Texas Tubes Facebook post said. "It's been a wild ride trying to deal with all this and hopefully, Texas Tubes will be able to reopen sometime in the near future."

Rockin' R River Rides said in a Facebook post that it would allow people to access the river through its properties.

"We will allow access to enjoy the river at most of our properties this weekend; there will be a per person charge," the post said. "We will be asking to remain six feet apart and wear a mask if you are (able) to do so.”

The Loan Star Float House also said on Facebook that floaters could access the river through their property.

In a Facebook posting before Friday's order, Brandon Riedel, who operates The Float In along with his family, said their business would close until July 1.

He said the decision to shut the business came because "we are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases regionally, and we need to put an end to this."

"We have been called to do all that we can do…well we, The Float In, can temporarily close to slow the spread," Riedel wrote. "This is what we can do today."

Abbott's move to squash the spike of COVID-19 could have a heavy local impact because of the importance of tourism to the area.

Judy Young, vice president of the New Braunfels Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she couldn't begin to guess how the closures would affect the local economy.

"Every summer, our water recreation provides a respite for so many visitors and residents alike," Young said. "Tourism also supports the livelihoods of many in New Braunfels. As Texans and in New Braunfels, making hard decisions is not new to us. We are on board with Gov. Abbott's orders so we can reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Protecting residents and visitors is our priority."

Also under the order, water parks and amusement parks are allowed to remain open, but at 50% capacity.

Aaron Martinez, with Schlitterbahn, said the order would not impact the water park's operations.

"We will remain open as long as it is safe to do so, following all local and national health guidelines. The health and safety of our guests and associates are our top priority. As such, Schlitterbahn has enhanced health guidelines and protocols for guests and associates alike."

Schlitterbahn opened its waterparks in New Braunfels and Galveston on June 13 at limited capacity and initially for season pass holders.

Also under the order, bars that receive more than 51% of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages are required to close.

These businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out, including alcoholic beverages.

Restaurants can remain open for dine-in service, but at 50% of total listed indoor occupancy, beginning Monday. That's down from the 75% capacity limit allowed under a previous order.

With the closures and the capacity reductions affecting restaurants and bars downtown, Heidi Aleman, president of the New Braunfels Downtown Association, said they will continue to market the downtown businesses the best they can.

“With the changes, our biggest thing is keeping the public aware  and finding ways to continue asking people to come to our downtown, keep it wonderful and keep the local business that are open active and find other ways that we can support the business that aren’t able to be open at this time. If this becomes something that is long-standing, then we’ll look at some sort of campaign to support the businesses that have had to shut their doors."

The 50% capacity order includes all business establishments except essential critical infrastructure workforce, religious services, local government operations, child-care services, youth camps and recreational sports programs.

Also, outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments. According to the order, people should not be in groups larger than 10 and should maintain six feet of social distancing from those not in their group.

"As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10%, the state of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Abbott said in a statement. "At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars. The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health."

The following establishments and activities are also limited to 50 percent occupancy: professional, collegiate or similar sporting events; swimming pools; water parks; museums and libraries; zoos, aquariums, natural caverns, and similar facilities; and rodeos and equestrian events.

The 50 percent occupancy limit does not apply to the following establishments that operate with at least six feet of social distancing between work stations: cosmetology salons, hair salons, barbershops, nail salons/shops, massage establishments, other personal- care and beauty services such as tanning salons, tattoo studios, piercing studios, hair removal services, and hair loss treatment and growth services.

People remain prohibited from visiting nursing homes, state-supported living centers, assisted living facilities or long-term care facilities.

"We want this to be as limited in duration as possible," Abbott said. "However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part. Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay six feet apart from others in public and stay home if they can."

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(1) comment

Jodie Flint

If the governor would just lean in and make masks mandatory, many of our businesses would be able to stay open.

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