For the first time in three weeks, no new COVID-19 cases were added to the caseload in Bandera County last week as business activity began to get its legs again after being in partial shutdown mode across the state for more than a month to help health officials slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Greg Abbott allowed retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, libraries and museums to reopen as of Friday, May 1, on a limited basis to rekindle the state’s economic engine even as officials urged residents to maintain recommended health safeguards and social distancing guidelines to keep COVID-19 from flaring up.
The new rules required businesses reopening in most of the state to limit their customer count during the day to 25 percent of their occupancy, but Bandera County businesses received larger allowances because of rules that let counties with five or fewer COVID-19 cases admit crowds of up to half of a business’s occupancy limit into stores there.
Six COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Bandera County, but one of those patients was considered recovered under the testing protocol and was taken off the active list.
Bandera County Judge Richard Evans reported those findings to state health officials and received confirmation that the count was low enough for businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity.
Evans said the new rules allowed by Abbott in Phase 1 of the state’s strategic recovery plan are a “great first step,” but he hopes residents will continue to be more health conscious and will follow the safeguards the state already has implemented to combat the virus.
Bandera Mayor Suzanne Schauman said the governor’s decision to lift the stay-at-home order that has been in effect since late March suggests “we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Social distancing rules are still the most important part of the coronavirus containment plan and appear to have kept the influenza-like virus from spreading rapidly out of control in Texas, the mayor said.
But she also said the 50 percent occupancy limit in Bandera County will help the economy recover even if it means more people are attracted to the county from areas where the COVID-19 count has reached high levels.
“Businesses are suffering so much now. These folks need to get back to work,” said Schauman.
Bandera businesses that reopened were pleased with the decision and said their customers were excited to be out shopping again though most admitted the crowds in the first few days of operation did not reach 25 percent of their occupancy much less half of their occupancy.
“I think right now, people are still testing the waters,” said Nancy Harvey, who owns the Spirits of Texas on Cypress Street in Bandera on Friday. “It will be interesting to see what happens Saturday.”
Business at the American Indian Store on Main Street at about midday on Saturday, May 2, was so slow that Debra Simmons, who was working the cash register, worried that if it didn’t pick up, the store might not open on Sunday, May 3.
“I wish more people would open up to help get more traffic,” said Simmons.
Several businesses on Main Street did remain closed on Saturday and might stay that way for awhile until traffic strengthens.
Eddie Rowe, the manager at the Western Trail Antiques & Marketplace at 200 Main St. in Bandera, said he would keep an eye out on business growth in town for several more days before deciding if it was strong enough to open the center, which offers space for about 70 dealers.
Once he opens, he’ll start charging dealers rent again, and those dealers might not be able to cover that cost if the sales are slim, Rowe said.
But customers milling about downtown Saturday were happy to be out and to see things getting back close to normal.
Scot and Marie Powell, who are from El Campo but have a home in Pipe Creek, said they loved Bandera and looked forward to showing their support to local businesses after making a purchase at The Cowboy Store.
Scot Powell said he hoped he would not contract COVID-19 on the outings now available to him and his wife, but he also did not want to just sit at home.
“You’ve got to live,” he said.
The partial opening of businesses across the state also allowed the county to reopen Medina Lake County Park and the river crossings at state and county roads, which had been closed to keep crowds away from those locations.
Crowds rushed to the county park on the lake so quickly on Saturday that it hit its 50 percent maximum by about 11 a.m., and new visitors had to be turned away until the crowd thinned.
Health officials were pleased to report that the COVID-19 caseload in the county did not rise for the first time in three weeks and that no suspected cases had been reported as of Monday, May 4.
That includes any cases springing from a mobile COVID-19 testing center that examined 45 patients at Mansfield Park on April 28, officials said.
A second mobile testing site will be held at Mansfield Park, 2886 Highway 16 North, on Wednesday May 6 to examine anyone with symptoms of the virus and first responders and healthcare workers who do not have symptoms but want to be tested.
The center will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by appointment only. To make an appointment, call 512-883-2400 or go online to txcovidtest.org.