Governor Rescinds Non-Emergent Surgery Restrictions in Most of Texas
By David Doolittle

COVID-19_Abbott_September_Orders

Gov. Greg Abbott today reauthorized non-emergent elective surgeries at hospitals and allowed nursing homes to reopen for visitations under certain conditions across the majority of Texas. 

Under an executive order issued today, elective surgeries will be allowed in any state Trauma Service Area (TSA) in which hospitalized COVID-19 patients make up less than 15% of all hospitalizations for seven consecutive days. 

All but three of the state’s 22 TSAs meet that criteria, according to the governor’s office. TSAs in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, and Victoria – areas Governor Abbott said were still “in the danger zone”  – remain excluded. The Department of State Health Services keeps an updated list of excluded TSAs on its website

The executive order also reduced from 15% to 10% the percentage of reserved hospital capacity required to treat COVID-19 patients. 

"With the medical advancements we have made and the personal hygiene practices we have adopted, Texans have shown that we can address both the health and safety concerns of COVID-19 while also taking careful, measured steps to restore the livelihoods that Texans depend on," Governor Abbott said. "Achieving both goals requires safe standards that contain COVID-19, emphasize protecting the most vulnerable, and establish clear metrics that the public can depend on.” 

In areas where elective surgeries and procedures are still prohibited, the order continues to permit those that are medically necessary to timely correct or diagnose a serious medical condition or preserve the life of a patient. It also continues to allow surgeries or procedures that, “if performed in accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice,” would not deplete the hospital capacity needed to respond to COVID-19. 

TMA’s  Office of the General Counsel reminds physicians that, even though this order supersedes the previous executive order requiring agencies to create certain safe practice standards, the Texas Medical Board’s (TMB’s) emergency rule establishing the minimum standards of safe practice during COVID-19 is still in effect and must be followed. The TMB emergency rule expires Oct. 27 unless renewed. 

Governor Abbott had suspended non-elective surgeries in 11 state Trauma Service Area (TSAs) in July because of a steady increase in COVID-19 patients. Unnecessary visits to nursing homes and other facilities had been suspended under Governor Abbott’s state of disaster declaration, issued in March. 

Beginning Sept. 24, residents of eligible nursing homes, assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities, home and community-based service providers, and inpatient hospice will be allowed to designate up to two essential family caregivers who will be allowed inside facilities for visitations, Governor Abbott also announced. However, only one caregiver at a time will be allowed to visit. 

Facilities will be required to train essential caregivers on the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other infection control measures. 

“Proper PPE must be used at all times during these scheduled visits, and the caregiver must test negative for COVID-19 within the previous 14 days before the initial visit,” the Governor’s office said. “Physical contact between residents and general visitors is not permitted. Facilities also must continue to meet all additional visitation requirements outlined in the emergency rules.” 

In addition, occupancy levels will be expanded to 75% at restaurants, retail stores, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, gyms and exercise facilities and classes, museums, and libraries in TSAs that meet the new requirements. 

You can find the latest news, resources, and government guidance on the coronavirus outbreak by visiting TMA’s COVID-19 Resource Center regularly.

Last Updated On

September 21, 2020

Originally Published On

September 17, 2020

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David Doolittle

Editor

(512) 370-1385

Dave Doolittle is editor of Texas Medicine and Texas Medicine Today. Dave grew up in Austin, where he attended culinary school as well as the University of Texas. He spent years covering Central Texas for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. He is the father of two girls, a proud Longhorn, and an avid motorsports fan.

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