HARLINGEN — Like Paulo Ochoa’s restaurant, some businesses are making preparations to reopen at 50-percent customer capacity after Gov. Greg Abbott set Friday as the big day.
Since May 1, Abbott has been unraveling his plan to lift the state’s business shutdown amid concerns of rising coronavirus cases.
“We are getting through this, but now more than ever we need to work together as one Texas,” Abbott said of his plan’s second phase. “Be a good neighbor.”
Meanwhile, he said the state is containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, citing hospitalizations as holding steady while more testing shows a drop in positive results.
“Everybody’s watching the numbers right now,” said Chris Gonzales, chief executive officer with the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce. “We want to see rising sales. I want to see small businesses survive, getting people to come out for some sort of normalcy.”
At Golden Corral, owner Jose Silva was waiting for Abbott to announce details behind the second phase of his plan to reopen the state’s economy.
“I feel really good,” Silva said as guests began arriving at his restaurant late Monday morning.
“We’re going at a nice, slow steady pace to see how things progress,” he said.
On Monday, Abbott allowed children’s daycare centers to reopen along with gyms, whose capacity he set at 25 percent.
Reopening reactions mixed
After a long lull, Marcy Espinoza walked onto the busy floor of Gold’s Gym Monday morning.
“I’m coming in after months,” she said. “I’m just curious to see how it’s going to be — if people are going to social distance and abide by the rules of the gym, if people stay safe. If I don’t feel safe, I won’t workout.”
At the struggling Valle Vista Mall, the gym was drawing the biggest crowd Monday.
For Angel Rodriguez, Monday marked the first day he went shopping since the month-long business shutdown.
“It’s the first time coming out, but we’re taking precautions — we don’t take the kids out,” Rodriguez, who works at a tire shop, said as he and his wife walked into the mall. “In a way, this is good because people want to get out of the house — and it’s good for (workers) because they go back to work.”
Restaurants to reopen at 50 percent capacity
On Friday, Abbott is allowing restaurants to expand from 25- to 50-percent dining capacity, while bars can reopen at 25 percent.
“We’re ready,” Paulo Ochoa, general manager of La Playa Mexican Café, said Monday. “We’re taking all precautions.”
Like many restaurants, Ochoa reopened at 25-percent dining capacity earlier this month.
“We were limited at 25 percent,” he said as he stood near the front door. “Now at 50 percent, we can bring in more revenue for the restaurant.”
After the month-long shutdown, Ochoa is proud to put nearly all of his employees back on the payroll.
“I brought back almost everybody — it’s 90 percent of my employees,” he said.
Now, he’s waiting to reopen the restaurant’s bar to bring back more employees
At Applebee’s Grill and Bar, Manager Gilbert Reyna was getting ready to reopen the restaurant after the long shutdown.
“It feels pretty good,” he said from the door.
Reyna said he is busy setting precautions in place.
“It’s going to change everything,” he said. “We’re having a sanitation specialist.”
Meanwhile, Reyna was working on plans to serve his guests at 50-percent dining capacity.
“There’s going to be a waiting list,” he said. “In the car, we’ll page you.”
More testing results
After Abbott allowed the April 30 expiration of his shelter-in-place order, which mandated residents without justifiable excuses stay home to limit exposure to the virus, public health officials have expressed concern over an “uptick” in new COVID-19 cases.
Since May 1, when Abbott allowed businesses to reopen at 25-percent capacity, Cameron County’s cases have jumped by about 200 new cases.
“There’s more testing available so we can capture more information about what’s happening in the community,” said Josh Ramirez, Harlingen’s public health director.
Ramirez noted more testing sites are opening, giving residents more opportunities to test for the virus.
“There are a lot more negatives than positives,” he said of test results. “At the beginning, our feeling was that we were going to find more (positive results).”