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Bell County bar owners rethink industry after being forced to close due to COVID-19 hospitalizations

Posted at 6:08 PM, Jan 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-06 19:08:42-05

COVID-19 hospitalizations are growing by the day, forcing many Central Texas counties to roll back reopenings.

On Tuesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services issued a letter to Bell County stating its trauma service area, TSA L, had met the state's hospitalization threshold and must return to previous restrictions.

”The amended form that I filed late yesterday afternoon now does not allow certain bars to be open due to the states designation of a high hospitalization area," said Bell County Judge David Blackburn.

Bell County is one of six counties in TSA L.

"Under Governor Abbott’s executive order GA-32, Trauma Service Area L has reached the threshold definition of a high hospitalization area," said Judge Blackburn.

On Wednesday, October 7, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott issued executive order GA-32, which allowed certain venues to reopen to 75% capacity and allowed the resumption of elective surgeries in certain counties. Counties that reside in Trauma Service Areas (TSAs) with high COVID‑19 hospitalizations are excluded from these reopenings.

According to the governor, any Trauma Service Area (TSA) that has had seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of total hospital capacity exceeds 15 percent is considered high hospitalization, meaning they must limit capacity, close bars and stop elective surgeries.

”This is going to affect my employees the biggest because we’re already at reduced hours and reduced staffing this time of year, and this is just going to cut that even more," said Jack Thompson, owner of Joker's Icehouse Bar and Grill.

It's even making some rethink the industry.

”It makes it rough trying to decide whether it’s worth keeping this type of business or transitioning to something different," said Thompson.

Local hospitals are alarmed by the rate of patients coming, but say they were prepared.

"This is by far the highest peak in COVID cases we have ever seen. It kind of makes the summer and spring a dress rehearsal for this current state of affairs," explained Kevin Roberts, president and CEO of AdventHealth Central Texas.

Health officials are urging people to stay vigilant and follow CDC recommendations to help slow the spread.

"The importance of social distancing and mask wearing is absolutely critical. One does not go well without the other," said Roberts.

AdventHealth in Killeen has begun to convert other areas of the hospital into ICU units to help handle the overflow of patients. They say they are at capacity, but don’t expect it to get as bad as other places around the country.