By Alex Samuels and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff
The Texas Tribune
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday that bars in Texas can reopen for in-person service next week — as long as their county governments choose to allow it.
Effective Oct. 14, bars in counties that opt in will be able to resume in-person services at 50 percent capacity, though all customers must be seated while eating or drinking. The governor will impose no outdoors capacity limits on bars or similar establishments.
“It is time to open them up,” Abbott said in a Facebook video. “If we continue to contain COVID, then these openings, just like other businesses, should be able to expand in the near future.”
In addition to bars being allowed to reopen, businesses currently limited to 50 percent capacity may now expand to 75 percent capacity — that includes establishments like movie theaters, bowling alleys, bingo halls and amusement parks.
But Abbott said in his order that bars in regions of the state with high hospitalizations for coronavirus won’t be able to open. He defined those regions as areas where coronavirus patients make up more than 15 percent of hospital capacity.
“It is time to open up more provided that safe protocols continue to be followed,” Abbott said. “If everyone continues the safe practices, Texas will be able to contain COVID and we will be able to reopen 100 percent.”
His announcement comes just days after he teased in a tweet that he would soon allow “more openings” of Texas businesses, ending the message with the word “Cheers!” and including an image of two beer mugs clinking.
Abbott wrote in the tweet that the spread of the coronavirus and number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 “remain contained,” and emphasized again on Wednesday that the seven-day average for the positivity rate, the number of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and fatalities have “remained steady” since his last reopening announcement last month.
At that announcement, Abbott said that restaurants could increase to 75 percent capacity, though bars remained shuttered. The governor has previously referred to bars as “COVID-spreading locations” and said that case numbers in the state would need to be further contained before they could open.
Spread of the coronavirus in bars and nightclubs — where typical nights can include mingling among strangers, singing along to loud music, shouting and dancing on a packed dance floor — has been widely documented throughout the U.S.
To try to contain the spread of the virus in bars, the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance came out with its own proposed guidelines at the end of August. Part of those guidelines included limiting indoor occupancy to 50% of capacity, conducting temperature checks at the door and requiring servers to wear masks. It also banned dance floors and mingling between groups.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it is working with county governments to provide guidelines to both local officials and businesses, and Texas wineries and distilleries were quick to laud Abbott’s reopening announcement.
“We’re grateful for Gov. Abbott [for] addressing the economic crisis facing our small businesses,” said Patrick Whitehead, the president of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and a Texas Winery PAC board member. “We’ve made clear that our businesses can safely reopen, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to throw open our doors once again to Texans ready to taste and buy Texas wines.”
Others in the industry were surprised by the governor’s announcement. Spencer Whelan, the executive director of the Texas Whiskey Association, said that while he had seen Abbott’s tweets, he hasn’t received any official communication from his office since March.
He’s worried the order won’t go far enough in helping distilleries rebound after being closed for months.
“While reopening tasting rooms will hopefully increase the foot traffic, we hope that the state continues to examine restrictions that are preventing contactless revenue options for distilleries,” he said.
The Texas Democratic Party, meanwhile, said it was too soon to safely reopen more businesses.
“We’re in this mess because Trump lies and Abbott keeps rolling back health and safety policies too early,” said Executive Director Manny Garcia. “Hardworking families have held their breaths, waiting for Trump and Abbott to make smart policy decisions. Now, as Texas continues to rank first in the country in new cases, Abbott has proven that he is dead set on making the same mistakes again.”
Gov. Greg Abbott says bars can reopen next week at 50 percent capacity if counties opt in was first published by The Texas Tribune.
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