Businesses could face occupancy rollback as hospitalizations rise


The increasing number of hospitalizations in Williamson County and the Trauma Service Area (TSA) has put businesses on a collision course with new COVID-19 related capacity restrictions.

Williamson County itself has seen the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations double in three weeks, up to 158 on Wednesday. The TSA as a whole, which covers an area across Central Texas that includes Travis and Williamson County – with a total population of 2.3 million – has a hospital bed capacity now of 349, with 39 ICU beds available.

Due to the high numbers, Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32 could go into effect as early as Jan. 11 at the current rate of increase. The order states that when the TSA has a high hospitalization rate, any business establishment that was allowed to operate at 75 percent occupancy limit must rollback to a 50 percent occupancy limit. A high hospitalization rate is defined in the Order as any TSA that has had seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of the total hospital capacity exceeds 15 percent.

The hospitalization rate in the TSA surpassed 15 percent January 3, and has increased since. A rollback has not been mandated yet, but is anticipated due to the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Williamson County will further notify residents in the event that the Texas Department of State Health Services issues a determination letter stating the region has become an area of high hospitalizations.
In addition, the order states that bars or similar establishments that are not restaurants cannot operate indoors on premises, but may offer drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options. The occupancy limit applies only to indoor and not outdoor areas, events, or establishments, although social distancing and other safety protocols must be followed.

A rollback to occupancy limits does not affect religious services, local government operations, child care services, youth camps, recreation sports programs for youth and adults, public or private schools, and drive-in concerts, movies or similar events. Personal-care and beauty services can operate with at least six feet of social distancing between work stations.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Williamson County have increased by 2,500 in the first week of 2021, up to 22,838, with 158 hospitalizations. There have been 20 deaths in the County since Christmas.

In Texas, there were more than 360,000 new cases in December, nearly 70,000 more than November which had been the highest monthly total to date. Hospitalizations in the state have grown by 2,300 and there have been more than 2,000 deaths in 2021 so far.