County Judge Danny Chambers completed the final paperwork on Thursday morning to authorize Somervell County restaurants and other qualifying businesses to reopen with 50% customer occupancy, following Gov. Greg Abbott’s new orders concerning the state’s COVID-19 health precautions.
Dr. Steven Vacek, Somervell County’s designated public health authority, told the Glen Rose Reporter on Wednesday that he and Chambers had made sure that the requirements were met before the documentation was forwarded to the proper authorities.
“We fit those criteria exceptionally well,” Vacek said, noting that state health authorities were reporting about 46 counties in Texas still have had no positive cases of the virus.
Things are much different in the more densely populated areas of the state, of course. Vacek noted that the most recent statistics indicated that the city of Houston alone, in Harris County, had almost 6,000 confirmed positive cases.
Chambers confirmed that, as of Thursday morning, Somervell County still has had no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among its residents. One Hood County resident who came here to have his test done at Glen Rose Medical Center had been notified of a positive test, and that was previously reported a few weeks ago.
Texas state health authorities had ruled that any county that currently has five or fewer confirmed active COVID-19 cases can allow restaurants to reopen their inside dining areas with 50% occupancy. That essentially allows them to skip past Phase 1 and immediately move to Phase 2 of Abbott’s plan to reopen businesses.
Counties with more than five current active cases will have a limit of 25% restaurant occupancy under Phase 1 of the governor’s plan, which was announced on Monday, and takes effect today (Friday, May 1). Those counties could begin having 50% occupancy once the state moves into Phase 2 of Abbott’s new plan.
Meanwhile, the governor’s latest ruling is keeping other businesses — including bars, gyms, cosmetology salons, massage establishments, interactive amusement venues, bowling alleys, and tattoo and piercing studios — closed through the end of Phase I.
Vacek posted his latest COVID-19 update on Glen Rose Medical Center’s Facebook page on Tuesday, during which he noted the number of positive cases in surrounding counties. He said that Johnson County has had 58 cases, while Hood reported 19, Erath had 13 (which includes one death) and Bosque had four.
Vacek told the Reporter that, as of Wednesday, Somervell County has processed approximately 200 tests, and 55 of the results are pending.
One new local development that was kicked off on Thursday was an opportunity for residents to have the IGG blood-draw test for COVID-19 antibodies, in an event that was held on the rear parking lot at Somervell County Expo Center.
“Now, this is not the same thing as testing for the disease,” Vacek said in the video. “This is evidence of exposure to the virus. And so this is handled very differently.
“If somebody is concerned they’re actually currently sick with the virus, the IGG testing is not the best test. So, we may encourage those patients to get tested in a different way.”
Vacek noted that the most “consistent” symptoms associated with the COVID-19 infection include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The nasal swab test, known as a PCR test, may be more appropriate for those who are already showing those symptoms. The drive-through testing Thursday, however, was not set up for the PCR nasal swab tests.
Thursday’s drive-through testing opportunity may be repeated on a future date, Vacek noted, depending on the demand. It was set up with a $50 cost per person, with payment by cash or check, as well as debit or credit card.
“We hope to be able to do this on more than one occasion,” Vacek said in his video post. “We do need to see how many people are interested in being tested.”
Vacek noted that the overall fatality rate in the United States is slowly trending down, and authorities say there may be evidence that the warmer weather ahead could help in the effort to defeat the virus.
Vacek noted that authorities will be keeping an eye on Australia’s COVID-19 trends in the coming weeks because the Southern Hemisphere is approaching winter. If the cooler temperatures there prove to open the door for a resurgence of the virus outbreak, that could be an indicator of things to come here once winter arrives.
“We’re hopeful that if Australia gets through this without a big increase during their winter time, that (it) will bode well for us,” Vacek said.
However, Vacek noted that he still has concerns on the local level.
“Medically speaking, reopening Somervell County does have some risks,” Vacek said. “My biggest concern as the local health authority isn’t the people who live here, it’s if we’re open for business and everyone around us is not, it could import the disease into our county very quickly.”