By PAUL J. WEBER Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Capitol will reopen to the public in January after being closed for much of the year because of the pandemic, a decision that comes as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging to the highest levels since summer.
The capitol will reopen Jan. 4 — roughly a week before the Texas Legislature reconvenes for the first time since 2019. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced the reopening Monday in a statement that noted how other state capitols remain closed.
Texas had more than 9,800 hospitalized coronavirus patients as of Sunday, the most since a deadly summer outbreak. The state is approaching the Christmas holiday with fewer than 800 intensive care unit beds and last Thursday smashed a single-day record for new cases with with more than 16,000, which state officials partly attributed to holiday gatherings.
Spread of the virus is also getting worse around the Capitol. On Monday, public health officials in Austin said that new cases were up 86% since the beginning of December.
Officials recommended that Austin residents avoid travel and avoid gatherings, and also warned that a curfew could be installed if hospitalizations continue to rise.
“The best gift we can give this Christmas is masking and distancing and staying home if we can,” said Dr. Mark Escott, the city’s interim health authority.
Abbott said health and safety protocols will be put in place for the Capitol’s reopening. More than 26,000 frontline and other essential workers in Texas as of Monday had received the first vaccinations that began arriving this month, according to state health officials. Abbott has said more than 1 million doses of the vaccine will have been distributed in Texas by the end of the month.