Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order that will allow bars to reopen for the first time since June, but in a somewhat odd move, he’s leaving the final decision and enforcement actions for each individual county up to the county judges.
Starting Oct. 14, county judges in areas of the state with low numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations will be able to opt their county into the governor’s bar reopening plan, provided they assist in enforcing health protocols. Bars in counties that opt in will be limited to 50% capacity.
Abbott made the announcement via video instead of holding a news conference.
“Thanks to Texans following the best health practices, our state is prepared for additional openings, including bars,” Abbott said. “Working with industry leaders and our team of medical experts, the state of Texas has now developed strategies to safely open bars under certain health protocols.”
“Opening bars does not mean that COVID-19 is no longer a threat, and most Texans are still susceptible to the virus,” the governor added. “As bars and similar businesses begin to open, we all must remain vigilant and show personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
While bars may reopen, dance floors within those bars will have to remain closed.
And, just like restaurants, all bar patrons will have to be seated while eating or drinking, and they must wear masks. There are limited exceptions for sampling at breweries, distilleries, and wineries.
Additionally, tables must be limited to six individuals or fewer, and all establishments must follow specific curfew guidelines.
Bars are hailing the news, but not everyone is as excited.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has already decided he will not ask for his county to opt in.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also says no, tweeting, “Indoor, maskless gatherings should not be taking place right now, and this applies to bars as well.”
Travis County is taking time to consider. As of Wednesday afternoon, there had yet to be word from Bexar County.
The move to defer the final decision to the county judges is a dramatic change for Abbott, who yanked any control of the state’s COVID-19 response away from local officials this spring.
“We’re in this mess because Trump lies, and Abbott keeps rolling back health and safety policies too early. 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. The mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis at the federal and state levels have cost Texans our jobs, livelihoods, and lives,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.
The governor’s order also increases the occupancy levels for all business establishments other than bars to 75%. This includes theaters, water parks, zoos, bingo halls and more.
Abbott said that if the state’s COVID-19 numbers remain good, he will expand his orders more in the future.