Houston-area officially crosses hospitalization threshold that triggers reopening rollbacks

State sends letters to county judges

HOUSTON – The Houston area officially crossed Tuesday the hospitalization threshold that triggers a rollback in reopenings for the area, and the state has sent letters to county judges informing them of the requirement.

Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Trauma Service Area Q, which includes Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties, have been above 15% for seven consecutive days. That triggers a provision of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s reopening order that requires, among other things, bars to close and restaurants to reduce capacity to 50%.

KPRC 2 has obtained copies of the letters that were sent to the judges in the nine counties that are part of TSA Q. You can read them below.

A spokesman for DSHS said the order takes effect immediately.

This would be the same rollbacks that were instituted in Galveston and Brazoria counties, which are in Trauma Service Area R, just before Christmas.

‘Wake-up call’

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she expected Tuesday’s numbers to push the region over the threshold.

“This is a wake-up call for us,” Hidalgo said.

The judge said people should take the situation seriously and take action to change the trajectory of the numbers. She said that means people should wear their masks, stay home as much as possible, wash their hands, avoid gatherings and get tested.

“Each and every one of us knows the drill,” Hidalgo said. “We’ve done it before. We have to do it again.”

Bar owners concerned over survival

One bar-turned-restaurant in north Houston, Mel’s Place, said having to drop to 50% capacity would be devastating to their small business, which is already struggling to get by.

Pamela Hillhouse, who owns Mel’s Place on Airline Drive, said she had to use more money to get a license and products to serve food.

“You have to buy the equipment to cook with -- all of that -- it’s just really been hard,” Hillhouse said.

Stella Birchfield, the head bartender at Mel’s Place, said she chose to retire from her other work and spent years working at the bar, taking care of regular patrons.

“This is my home place. I retired from the county and this is my place where I have all my people here -- my family. It just means a whole lot to me,” Birchfield said.

Miles away in Fort Bend County, Stafford Ice House owner Karla Webb said her owned business has been in the family for 27 years.

“We are all women-owned and operated,” Webb said.

Known as the “friendliest bar in town,” the business serves many familiar faces.

“Our customers are important to us; they’re our family, so we don’t want to get them sick, and we go over what our protocol is,” Webb said.

Webb is choosing not to close despite the order because she and her employees depend on the business to survive.

“We will not survive another shut down because the bills won’t stop. You still have to pay your bills,” Webb said.

Webb said they will continue their efforts to keep customers safe.

“Customers are more safe here than at the grocery store,” Webb said.

You can watch a replay of Hidalgo’s news conference below:

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