Closures, increased testing follow spike

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Both the State of Texas and Williamson County have seen a June spike in COVID-19 cases, leading to new directives from Gov. Greg Abbott and local decisions to be considered by county and city officials.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Texas increased 150 percent in June, and Williamson County cases have more than tripled, but it is the numbers since the middle of the month that have created the most concern.

Mayor Rick Hall reported Monday that there have been 40 total cases in Liberty Hill, with 15 of those reported as recovered.

Active cases in Williamson County have more than quadrupled in two weeks, jumping from 297 to 1,247, far outpacing the recoveries that now stand at 904. Hospitalizations in the county have eclipsed 100, with more than 30 in intensive care. Hospitals are reporting 27 percent capacity available in beds and only 12 percent in intensive care units.

Statewide, the number of hospitalizations have risen from 2,326 on June 15 to 6,533 on June 30, causing Abbott to suspend elective surgeries in a number of counties to preserve hospital space.

Festivities canceled
The City of Liberty Hill announced through social media Friday it was canceling the Independence Day Spectacular slated for July 3.

“With the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, new orders from Governor Abbott, and concern for our citizens and visitors to Liberty Hill, we have made a very difficult but necessary decision to cancel the Independence Day Spectacular events scheduled for July 3rd at City Park,” the statement said.

The fireworks show will go on at 9:30 p.m. July 3 and will be done from the field between the Intermediate and Junior High schools, but spectators will not be allowed onto the field.

Impacted businesses
In the last week, two additional Liberty Hill businesses reported they would temporarily close due to COVID-19 cases.

Dairy Queen temporarily closed after one of its employees tested positive but has since reopened. Jardin Corona has closed because of the increase in cases, and an employee at each of two different locations outside of Liberty Hill tested positive.

There are no state requirements for publicly reporting cases of the virus among employees, but these two as well as Winkley’s shared information on their situations, sanitizing efforts and reopening plans.

In an online social media poll conducted by The Independent Monday, respondents were asked “Should businesses be expected to inform the public when an employee tests positive for COVID-19?” Of the 1,009 votes cast, 86 percent said yes, businesses should inform the public.

Mask debate
While the State and County have encouraged the wearing of masks through sharing Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and public service announcements, they have left it to local authorities to determine whether people in local businesses should be required to wear a mask.

Monday, the cities of Round Rock, Cedar Park, Georgetown, Leander, Hutto and Taylor all issued local orders that employees and customers inside businesses and nonprofits must wear a mask.

When asked if Liberty Hill planned to consider a similar order, Hall responded by saying “not at this time.”

A second poll, conducted Tuesday by The Independent on social media, asked, “Should the City of Liberty Hill require employees and customers to wear masks in businesses in Liberty Hill with an order similar to those issued Monday for six other Williamson County cities?”

There were 791 votes in favor of an order to wear masks, representing 68 percent of the 1,153 total votes.

Local testing
The Williamson County Office of Emergency Management, in partnership with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Texas Military Department, will be hosting free COVID-19 testing in Liberty Hill July 9 and 10, with locations in Hutto (July 6) and Jarrell (July 7-8) as well.

Testing locations will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and local testing will be at Liberty Hill Junior High.

No appointment is necessary and the sites are walk-up with testing at no charge. Those interested in being tested will be asked to park and line up for their turn. County officials said that due to demand there may be long wait times and those waiting are urged to bring a water bottle, a chair, and a form of shade to cover from the sun if necessary.

There is no screening required and no symptoms are necessary to be tested.

“Demand for COVID-19 testing is increasing, so Williamson County is determined to make COVID-19 testing more accessible, especially in areas of the County where available testing sites are farther away,” said County Judge Bill Gravell.

The County’s Office of Emergency Management coordinated with elected officials, local police departments, Emergency Services Districts, and the Independent School Districts in each area to arrange for the mobile testing locations.

COVID-19 tests at these locations are available for anyone, whether they are Williamson County residents or not. For more information, visit the Williamson County website at www.wilco.org.

Closed again
The positivity rate among those tested in Texas increased above 10 percent last week, one of the indicators Abbott previously stated would lead to further preventative action.

“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10 percent, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said Friday. “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. We want this to be as limited in duration as possible. 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. I know that our collective action can lead to a reduction in the spread of COVID-19 because we have done it before, and we will do it again.”

The directives in the executive order are based on links between certain types of businesses and services and the recent rise in positive cases throughout the state, according to Abbott.

The order issued June 26 includes the following:
• All bars and similar establishments that receive more than 51 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages were required to close June 26. These businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out, including for alcoholic beverages, as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
• Restaurants may remain open for dine-in service, but at a capacity not to exceed 50 percent of total listed indoor occupancy, beginning June 29.
• Rafting and tubing businesses must close.
• Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments, with certain exceptions.

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