Wise County

Wise County Officially Cleared to Operate at 50% Capacity

Clearance was not given until late Friday afternoon due to conflicting information, Judge says

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Wise County businesses have been officially cleared to operate at 50% capacity, the county judge confirmed Friday.

Judge J.D. Clark said required attestation and supporting documentation was submitted on Thursday morning with the Texas Department of State Health Services in order for businesses to operate at 50% capacity by Friday.

Clearance wasn’t granted late Friday afternoon due to conflicting information between the state and regional TSHS offices, Judge Clark said.

Under the newest executive orders issued by Gov. Abbott, businesses like restaurants and retail stores can operate with 50% capacity instead of 25% if their county has five or fewer cases.

Wise County met that threshold both Thursday and Friday with four active cases, Clark told NBC 5. However, he said the regional office told him criteria depended on active cases Thursday, while the state said it was based on the number of cumulative cases Thursday and active cases Friday.

A spokesperson for Gov. Abbott’s office confirmed the key criteria depended on the number of active cases but as details were being ironed out, businesses were first advised by Clark to open Friday morning at 25% capacity.

Alex Jennings, general manager at Trinity Street Coffee Bar in Decatur, said they had planned to open at 25% regardless. That’s about 15 to 18 guests at a time plus staff, Jennings said.

“We don’t want to rush headlong into allowing ourselves to open to possibly 40-plus people into our café and exacerbate the problem,” he said. “We are leaving our door open to mitigate people having to touch doorknobs. We’re using disposable menus so people are tossing them as they use them after each use.”

Nearby, Shannon Black unlocked her doors to the public Friday morning for the first time since March 18. She owns the boutique shop White Heat.

“When you’re closed that long, you worry about, ‘is my store going to make it? Are we going to be able to survive this?’ Today, when we opened at 10 o’clock we had an overwhelming welcome,” Black said.

For now, she said she’s also comfortable with operating at about 25% capacity.

“I’m a little nervous coming back too. I don’t want to get COVID,” she told NBC 5.

In an interview with NBC 5 earlier this week, Judge Clark reiterated businesses did not have to open at the maximum capacity allowed by state orders – or at all, if they were not comfortable yet.

“Basically, our business community – like a lot of business communities – they want some flexibility to go to work in a safe way. It’s not mutually exclusive that you either go to work or you be safe and healthy. You can do both,” Clark said. “I think, too, we need to continue to talk to our business community. Continue to talk to our citizens that just because we’re seeing some things open back up -which is fantastic – we have to remember, it’s still an active virus. We still want to limit and contain the spread of that.”

Jennings said for them, it’s about what’s best for their customers and staff.

“Wisdom tells us to incrementally roll out with a couple of new people being added every week and reconvene and see if that’s realistic for us to maintain,” he said.

Clark said the clearance approved Friday afternoon goes into effect immediately, though he suspected most businesses would implement it Saturday.

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