Gov. Greg Abbott announced yesterday that bars in Texas can reopen at half capacity beginning next week, but County Judges are weary.
After making a not-so-subtle hint the day before, Greg Abbott officially announced on social media that Texas bars in areas with low cases of the virus would be permitted to reopen at 50% capacity indoors, while loosening further restrictions on bars and other businesses starting on October 14. [Featured image: @beckeli via Unsplash]
Abbott broke the big news on Facebook, in which he announced that – barring the decision of county judges with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission – areas with low Covid-19 cases can reopen bars at 50% capacity. Additionally, recreational businesses such as movie theaters, zoos, and museums, can expand to 75% capacity. The decision, Abbott said, has been made following a steady 7-day positivity rate of new Covid-19 cases for fatalities and hospitalizations at 6.9% since his last announcement.
“It is time to open up more provided that safe protocols continue to be followed,” the governor said.
The new regulations would permit businesses operating at half capacity to expand to 75% capacity, including bowling alleys, amusement parks, movie theaters, zoos, aquariums, and bingo halls.
In order to safely permit the reopening of bars, which have been closed since late June, bars must follow protocols similar to those implemented by restaurants, such as adequate social distancing measures. Additionally, parties must be limited to groups of 6, while staff and patrons must wear masks when unseated. The expansions would take effect next week on October 14 in those regions where “Covid hospitalizations are less than 15% of hospital capacity.”
The governor reiterated that the decision to opt in for these new expanded measures rests on county officials, who must enforce safety protocols if approved.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo initially expressed hesitancy at the decision, pointing out how the governor uprooted her stay-at-home recommendation for Harris County.
“The data guiding county decision-making tells us we are doing much better than we were a few months ago, but we are still at the highest level: red. Indoor, maskless gatherings should not be taking place right now, and this applies to bars, as well,” said Hidalgo. “We are moving in the right direction because of the community coming together and helping contain this virus. We must not let down our guard or we will be right back where we started.”
Later, Hidalgo put out the following statement:
“The data guiding county decision-making tells us we are doing much better than we were a few months ago, but we are still at the highest level [of the Harris County Threat Level System]: red. Indoor, maskless gatherings should not be taking place right now, and this applies to bars, as well.”
This is the second time that Texas has reopened bars since the onset of the pandemic. In May, Abbott green lit bars and restaurants to reopen at 25% indoor capacity, then later in early June, to 50% in capacity. Not a month later, Abbott moved to close these businesses following a surge in cases.
Gov. Abbott said in his recent announcement that people are now more aware of the potential spread of the coronavirus and the importance of containment. Additionally, the new protocols will be stricter and safer than before per the input of bars and similar business. Lastly, the State of Texas is more prepared to test and treat citizens for the novel coronavirus with over 65,000 Covid-19 tests per day. With increased testing, Abbott said, the state will be able to better monitor areas of potential outbreaks and subsequently, take action to contain them.