It has been more than a week since Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to open some businesses in Texas came to fruition.

In the process, the City of Wharton acted and put out a news release to the public in April called “Back in Business.”

Nine days later, the second phase of opening the state occurred.

“Phase 1 of business re-openings have begun; as of now restaurants, retail shops, movie theaters, malls, museums, libraries and single-person offices are allowed to reopen, but are limited to 25% maximum capacity,” said Chad Odom, who is the public information officer for the Wharton County Office of Emergency Management (OEM). “Capacity restrictions will expand to 50% as part of Phase 2. Interactive areas with hands-on activities, including children play areas, should remain closed. 

Odom who commented via an OEM news release on Thursday, May 7, said restaurants that are required to post the 51% sign required by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, are not allowed to reopen dine-in services, but may continue to provide to-go or delivery services.

“Licensed healthcare professionals may return to work under the rules of their respective licensing agencies, and licensed hospitals must reserve 15% of their capacity for treating COVID-19 patients,” Odom said.

Per Gov. Abbott’s Executive Order, at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 8, the following were allowed to open: cosmetology salons, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons/shops, and other establishments where licensed cosmetologists or barbers practiced their trade as well as tanning salons; provided that they ensure at least six feet of social distancing between operating work stations.

The order also highlighted swimming pools, although Wharton elected officials decided to cancel the season, while East Bernard plans to open next month. Per the Executive Order, a swimming pool could operate at up to 25 percent of the total listed occupancy of the pool. The order also stated a local public swimming pool could operate only if permitted by the local government.

Abbott’s Executive Order GA-18 explained that if confirmed COVID-19 case counts do not increase before Monday, May 18, the governor could “allow an additional release of restrictions. Alternatively, if the positive case count does increase, restrictions may be re-activated.” 

Nevertheless, starting at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, May 18, the following may open: services provided by office workers in offices that operate at up to the greater of five individuals or 25 percent of the total office workforce; provided that the individuals maintain appropriate social distancing; manufacturing services, for facilities that operate at up to 25 percent of the total listed occupancy of the facility; gyms and exercise facilities and classes that operate at up to 25 percent of the total listed occupancy of the gym or exercise facility; provided, however, that locker rooms and shower facilities must remain closed, but restrooms may open.

Per the Executive Order, no-contact outdoor sports are allowed and non-contact sports are limited to groups of four. Group size may be expanded as part of Phase 2, according to the state.

‘Back in Business’

The City of Wharton announced the “Back in Business” framework on Tuesday, April 28 to help ease local businesses in re-opening their doors. The “Back in Business” campaign was developed as the state and federal government allowed more business to resume. At the time, Wharton was continuing to allow to-go and take-out retail method, but additional changes announced by Abbott on Monday, April 27 took effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, May 1. 

According to the governor’s Executive Order GA-18, at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 1, in-store retail services, dine-in restaurant services, movie theaters, shopping malls, museums and libraries, could operate at 25% occupancy under specific guidelines and regulations. 

Wharton helps

City of Wharton official says they will continue to explore opportunities and resources, including workshops, webinars, funding assistance, and other community-driven activities to help support local businesses. According to the city’s Community Development, officials said a portion of the sales tax goes back to Wharton for projects like the future levee greenspace and FM 1301 extension.

Businesses are encouraged to follow the City of Wharton Community Development Department online at https://www.Facebook.com/WhartonCD. You may contact Krystal Hasselmeier at KHasselmeier@cityofwharton.com or by phone at 979-532-2491, extension 239.

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Q: What businesses will and won’t be allowed to open? 

A: In-store retail services, dine-in restaurant services, movie theaters, shopping malls, museums and libraries are allowed to re-open as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 1. ‘Gyms, bars, public swimming pools, interactive amusement venues such as bowling alleys and video arcades, massage establishments, tattoo studios, piercing studios, or cosmetology salons’ are not included in these reopening rules and should remain closed to the public, except for utilizing the ‘to-go retail’ method to sell products. 

Q: What requirements exist for businesses that are now allowed to re-open? 

A: Here are the requirements that businesses need to know: 

• The businesses listed above as able to open starting this Friday, May 1 can only operate at 25% capacity. Restaurants required to ‘post the 51% sign required by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’ because more than 51% of their sales are alcohol based, are not allowed to allow dine-in service, but may continue the to-go order method at this time. 

• If confirmed case counts do not increase before May 18, the governor may allow an additional release of restrictions. Alternatively, if the positive case count does increase, restrictions may be re-activated. 

• This order does not require private businesses to open but does allow for it as outlined on this phased plan. 

• Businesses are recommended to observe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and continue with social distancing, hand hygiene, and other practices that prevent the spread of the virus.

Q: What do I need to know about keeping my staff and customers safe during re-opening? 

A: Businesses that are allowed to open under the new changes starting May 1 are required to follow the health protocols listed in the governor’s “Reopen Texas” report at http://gov.texas.gov/opentexas. Pages 19-43 include health protocols and guidelines for employers, retailers, restaurants, movie theaters, museums and libraries, outdoor sports, churches/places of worship, and single-person offices. 

More information about safe business can be found at: CDC Guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/Index.html ADA: https://www.ada.gov/emerg_prep.html OSHA: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/

Q: What does occupancy mean? 

A: “Occupancy” means the maximum number of people that are allowed to be in your establishment. The Certificate of Occupancy that was issued to you by the City of Wharton states your maximum allowed number of people allowed in your building at any given time. To calculate 25% max occupancy multiply .25 by the regular occupancy number to determine your 25% occupancy cap (ex. .25 x 100 = 25 people maximum for a business that normally has a maximum capacity of 100). 

Q: It says rural counties can increase to 50% occupancy, can my business operate with this capacity since Wharton County is considered rural? 

A: No. This only applies to rural counties with ‘five or fewer COVID-19 laboratory confirmed cases.’ There are more than five positive cases confirmed for Wharton County, therefore businesses are only allowed to operate at 25% occupancy at this time. 

Q: What happens next? 

A: Businesses can most likely anticipate a very slow return to normal. Here are some tips for businesses that are struggling to keep up with the changes as our city transitions through this time: 

• Businesses should be mindful to observe CDC guidelines – being obvious about following these guidelines (such as providing complimentary hand sanitizer, wiping down point-of-sale stations between customers, continuing to keep communal stations-like self-serve drinks closed, etc.) will help customers feel safe and confident in conducting business at your establishment. 

Businesses should take this time to make sure they have a digital presence, including a logo, website, and social media. Now that communities like ours have had to adjust to online methods of placing grocery orders and making purchases with retailers, it can be expected that some percentage of people will continue to do this. Note that apps like Favor are not the best apps for businesses like antique shops, but online stores like Facebook Marketplace and Etsy are. The city is exploring opportunities to bring workshops to our area for businesses who need help modernizing to remain relevant and sustainable. 

In the meantime, you could contact the local representative, Mindi Snyder, from the Small Business Development Center. Snyder’s office is at 1112 7th Street, in Bay City. Her email is mrsnyder@uh.edu and her number is 281-499-9787.

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