Some restaurants reopening, but government warnings raise concerns

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It's been a struggle for most everyone during the pandemic, with individuals and entire industries suffering and restaurants among the hardest hit.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott relaxed many of the protections put in place to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, allowing many types of businesses to open with limited occupancy and other safety measures. The question left lingering over many of the business owners: will there be enough customers showing up to justify staffing their locations?

Much of the fear that remains surrounding the state's plan to reopen centers is on testing. Texas consistently ranks last in the nation when it comes to testing for COVID-19, but it's one of the first to try to reopen businesses.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo held a press briefing Friday morning, saying while the county will go along with the governor's plans, the risk is far from over. In fact, she warned that making too many changes too fast will likely lead to a resurgence of the virus.

"Some see today as a celebration and back to business as usual. I have to say 'not so fast,'" Hidalgo said. "Yesterday, we had 97 new cases in Harris County outside of Houston. Texas also reported 50 more deaths from this virus, the most in any one day since mid-March. Statewide we added a thousand new cases, the biggest one day jump in three weeks."

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While many restaurants are opening, Sonoma's owner is staying closed.

Hidalgo pointed out to business owners, just because they're allowed to open doesn't mean it's what's best for them. She urged them to think individually and critically.

"This virus doesn't respect dates on calendar. It's impossible to pull a date out of thin air and say to the virus, 'We're ready for you to go away now'. That's not how it works. That's not how any of this works," she said.

But for many businesses, reopening under the new guidelines may be their last chance to stay afloat.

Humberto Martinez, owner of Burgerim restaurant downtown, has spoken to ABC13 before about the struggle of trying to stay in business and keep his employees while only being open for take-out service. He hopes Friday marks a new day for his business.

"We opened back up again at 25 percent."

We have blue tape on that tables and chairs that you're not allowed to sit on for social distancing," he said.

That one quarter capacity and keeping people separated are part of the governor's guidelines for the phased reopening of some types of businesses, including restaurants, movie theaters and malls. The plan excludes other businesses like gyms and salons.

Hidalgo encouraged people to take it slowly, and not to think the risk has passed.

"I do recognize the sooner we get the economy up and running again, the faster we can get our society back on track and recover from this nightmare," Hidalgo said. "But if the virus spreads like wildfire and the hospitals run out of space again, we'll have to shut back down again. If we do the reopening step-by-step carefully there is a chance of succeeding."

Many businesses are heeding her warning, while trying to be optimistic.

"The reopening, it's a sign of good things to come," Martinez said. "We love our customers. We love to have them back."

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