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Abbott allows Texas bars to open again

Thursday, October 8, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Texas bars will soon be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity indoors at the discretion of the presiding county judge, according to a new order from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott’s newest executive order applies to areas with “low Covid-19 hospitalizations,” which is defined as hospital regions where Covid-19 patients constitute 15 percent or fewer of patients in hospitals. In those areas, county judges can allow bars to open starting next Wednesday, Oct. 14, though they will be required to help enforce health safety measures laid out by the state.

“As of now, only two types of businesses have not been open since July. One is river-tubing operations, and the other is bars,” Abbott said in a video elaborating on the new order. “It is time to open them up.”

“The good news is that, even with additional business openings, even with more students returning to school and more gatherings like football games, Texans have shown that we can contain the spread of Covid,” Abbott said. “So, it is time to open up more, provided that safe protocols continue to be followed.”

Dance floors, however, will remain closed. In addition, existing rules will remain in place that limit the number of people seated to each table to six, set curfews, and require patrons to remain seated while eating and drinking and wear masks when not seated.

No decision has yet been made about how Travis County will proceed.

“Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe intends to take the next several days to speak with the County Attorney’s office and determine what authority has finally been returned to local governments based on Governor Abbott’s announcement,” read a statement from the county. “Additionally, he will continue to confer with the Austin-Travis County Health Authority to chart out the county’s safest route to ensuring a healthy population and economy.”

In contrast, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell has already made the decision to opt in. In his statement Gravell said it was “time for all our businesses to be open to serve our public.”

“Our county residents have shown they can be smart and protect themselves and others,” Gravell continued.

Michael Klein, president of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance, also released a statement. He criticized the new orders as a “punt” by Abbott.

“TBNA is under no delusions: many of our members will eventually be allowed to operate under this new order because their county judge will lead and ‘opt in.’ However, this is a death sentence for so many of our members under the jurisdiction of county judges who still believe that we should be locked down like we were in March and April, despite all the progress we’ve made coexisting with this virus,” Klein said.

“The truth is we remain closed until someone else makes the decision to open us up based on whatever parameters they deem appropriate – data, politics, personal animus, you name it,” he continued. “Abbott has forced 254 other people to make this decision for him with no guideposts as to how to make that decision. He’s officially passed the buck … Texas bars and nightclubs are now the official scapegoat of the pandemic.”

TBNA members filed a suit against the governor over his executive order shuttering bars earlier this year, claiming Abbott abused his emergency powers and failed to give proper notice prior to the shutdown.

In contrast, Texas Winery and Texas Craft Spirits political action committees released statements praising the move to reopen. The new order makes an exception to the prohibition on seated consumption for sampling at breweries, distilleries and wineries.

Wednesday’s executive order also increases occupancy levels for businesses other than bars from 50 to 75 percent for areas of low hospitalization. That threshold had previously been approved for retailers, restaurants and gyms. It is now extended to include places like movie theaters, amusement parks, aquariums, libraries and museums. For areas with high hospitalization rates, occupancy in these kinds of establishments will remain at 50 percent.

In addition, according to the new order, “All indoor and outdoor professional, collegiate and similar sporting events, including rodeos and equestrian events, shall remain limited to 50 percent of the normal operating limits as determined by the owner.”

Abbott explained that the opening of bars should be “more successful” this time around due to the population being more informed about the speed at which Covid can spread and what can be done to contain it; better protocols now in place; and an increased testing and treatment ability for those infected with the virus.

“Opening bars does not mean Covid is not still a threat,” Abbott said. “Most Texans are still susceptible to it. … If everyone continues the safe practices, Texas will continue to contain Covid and we will be able to open 100 percent.”

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Photo courtesy of YouTube.

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