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Coronavirus cases ticking up again

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Kendall County reported three new community-spread cases of COVID-19 this week, increasing the total number of cases to 24 and the number of active cases to five. Two of the new cases were reported Monday while the third was confirmed Tuesday.

All five cases are outside municipal limits.

Kendall County Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Fincke said Kendall County has tested about 583 people. The breakdown of positive cases is 11 in Boerne, 12 in unincorporated Kendall County and one in Fair Oaks Ranch. Fair Oaks Ranch also has three other confirmed cases outside of Kendall County.

Monday’s case report came just minutes after Governor Greg Abbott announced the launch of Phase 2 of his plan to reopen businesses in the state. As of Monday, childcare facilities, massage and personal care services and youth clubs were given the green light to open as long as they follow social distancing practices and health protocols laid out by state officials.

And residents finally can toast to the next phase as bars, wine tasting rooms and craft breweries in Kendall County are allowed to operate at 50 percent of their indoor capacity as of Friday.

The governor’s orders only allow for 25 percent occupancy capacity. However, Fincke said because Kendall County met criteria for looser restrictions in Phase 1, the county is allowed to stretch occupancy limits to 50 percent during Phase 2.

Bar occupancy limits do not apply to outdoor areas that allow for safer distancing, and bars that choose to reopen must provide hand sanitization stations at every entrance. Dancing is discouraged and tables shouldn’t seat more than six people. Bar patrons are being asked to remain seated at tables, and all parties should remain at least 6 feet apart.

Rodeo and equestrian events, bowling alleys, bingo halls, skating rinks, aquariums and natural caverns also are allowed to open Friday. Parents can start making summer plans as day camps, overnight camps and youth sports are allowed to open on May 31. And schools are able to provide in-person summer school sessions beginning June 1, as long as they follow social distancing and health protocols.

Professional sports also are allowed to operate as of May 31. However, no spectators are allowed yet.

Office buildings also can reopen, but they should not have more than 10 people or 25 percent of the workforce.

Restaurants across the state were given clearance to open to 50 percent occupancy capacity. However, Kendall County has been at that limit since the launch of Phase 1 on May 1.

Abbott said he’s gotten questions about opening theme parks like Six Flags, but he’s watching to see how Disney parks phase back open before making any decisions.

He said the ability to continue on the path to reopening the state relies on data trends. Officials are still asking that symptomatic Texans get tested, and the state has deployed about 600 testing sites.

“But let’s be clear, COVID-19 still exists in Texas,” Abbott said.

Since May 1, when Abbott’s reopening Texas plan kicked in, there have been 23,236 new COVID-19 cases reported in the state through Wednesday, or an average of 1,162 per day. There only have been four days during that period where the number of new cases was below 1,000.

Wednesday’s new case count was 1,411.

Outbreaks in some parts of the state has delayed Phase 2 for another week. Counties near El Paso and Amarillo have seen a surge in cases, and Amarillo is now considered a “hot spot.” Abbott said it will be at least another week before those areas move into Phase 2.

“We’ve seen spikes happen before, and we’ve seen the containment of spikes take place,” Abbott said.

He said the key metrics to look at aren’t the total number of tests or cases, but rather the rate of positive tests coming in. Kendall County is looking at rates as well, since the looser restrictions only are allowed as long as the county maintains a relatively low case rate.

Fincke said there are three criteria that would force the county to revert back to tighter restrictions.

The first is a 12 percent positive rate in batch testing. For instance, Fincke said, if 100 individuals are tested in the county and 12 come back positive, the county could require businesses to operate at 25 percent occupancy capacity. Or if the county tests 100 people for five days in a row, then 60 people would have to come back positive for the county to tighten restrictions.

He said it’s still a little unclear what constitutes a “batch,” but for now officials are trying to stick with that formula.

The county also could have to backtrack on reopening if for some reason it gets 135 active cases, or if there were a surge in the number of patients requiring hospital beds in the area. Fincke said Kendall County is allowed to use regional hospitals for reporting purposes, and there are currently 2,000 staffed beds in the region, and only 80 of them have patients.

Fincke said one of the biggest industries asking for help with understanding the governor’s orders is the local wedding industry. Because the orders say no more than six people per table at a reception, Fincke is fielding questions about extra-long tables that would allow for six-foot distancing and whether indoor and outdoor venue capacities can be combined to determine the number of guests allowed. They cannot.

Abbott said Texas is moving toward more preparedness as personal protective equipment is plentiful. The state distributes more than 1 million face masks per day, and testing has more than doubled.

Abbott said Texas had more tests in the first half of May than in March and April combined. However, tracing efforts still aren’t operating at 100 percent. Officials confirmed that the state will need a workforce of about 4,000 and a web-based platform to reliably trace all COVID-19 cases. Until then, some patients with COVID-19 will go untracked.

Abbott said social distancing measures and face masks are all part of helping residents feel safe enough to go out, so it’s more helpful to businesses if people use these practices. He said if people don’t feel safe to go out, businesses could suffer more. But he’s hoping Texans will continue to be responsible and adhere to those safety measures during this next phase of reopening Texas.

Since May 1, when Governor Greg Abbott’s reopening Texas plan kicked in, there have been 23,236 new COVID-19 cases reported in the state through Wednesday, or an average of 1,162 per day.