Fry Street

Bars and other businesses are shown along Avenue A in Denton’s Fry Street area on Monday.

Denton County’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate is nearing 15% — the threshold Gov. Greg Abbott gave local governments above which they would not be allowed to reopen bars.

Under Abbott’s Oct. 7 executive order, bars that were previously closed in Texas were allowed to open Wednesday at 50% in-person capacity. Local governments had the option of filing to reopen bars with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission if the county’s trauma service areas had a COVID-19 hospitalization rate under 15%.

When Abbott made his announcement, Denton County Judge Andy Eads said then that he would take the necessary steps to open local bars because the hospitalization rate was at 6.8% — but the rate has almost doubled since then.

“We’re just following the governor’s orders that allows us to reopen the bars to the 50% in capacity,” Eads said. “I was on a conference call with the leadership of TABC with a variety of other county judges across the state about 10 days ago, and I feel confident that TABC is going to be closely monitoring the bars so they are adopting the best practices.”

Eads himself is at home quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.

Per Abbott’s executive order, an area is considered to have a high COVID-19 hospitalization rate if coronavirus patients make up more than 15% of hospital capacity for seven consecutive days. The area is considered to have high hospitalization rates until it goes seven consecutive days below 15%.

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, when Denton County Public Health Director Matt Richardson addressed the Commissioners Court, Richardson said the 9.9% hospitalization rate was not an area of concern yet. Since then, the hospitalization rate increased to 13% Sunday.

“Our hospitals are seeing more activity, and that percent hospitalization is increasing, but our availability is still present,” Richardson said last week. “It’s something to be observed and monitored, no question.”

The local health authority is scheduled to address the Commissioners Court when county leaders meet virtually Tuesday morning. As part of his COVID-19 update, Richardson may address the increasing hospitalization rate again.

Denton County Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard shows the rate has fluctuated since the start of reporting. Hospitalizations in the county haven’t reached Abbott’s threshold of 15% since Aug. 3, and the highest rate the county experienced was 19.5% on July 27.

The lowest rate since then was 4.3% on Oct. 2.

“We would notify TABC if we’re deviating or exceeding that 15% of COVID-19 hospitalizations as outlined by the governor,” Eads said. “That’s his guidelines, so the county judges could opt in if we wanted to reopen the bars, as long as it’s below that threshold.”

Richardson outlined in a phone call Friday some best practices for people who wish to go to bars soon.

“If you are at a bar, minimize your time around others, maximize your distance from other individuals,” Richardson said in a phone call Thursday. “That’s not the way we’ve typically enjoyed bars in the past, but it’s the best practice.”

Eads said people should report to TABC if they see a bar that isn’t complying with 50% in-person capacity and safety guidelines.

“TABC appreciates the input of Texans who share their concerns about health and safety issues at bars or restaurants,” said Chris Porter, a spokesperson for TABC. “Anyone wishing to report potential violations of the state’s COVID-19 protocols may contact TABC by using the free TABC mobile smart device app or by calling 1-888-THE-TABC or emailing complaints@tabc.texas.gov.”

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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