Faced with a COVID-19 situation that is spiraling out of control, Gov. Greg Abbott Friday issued a new executive order closing bars to in-person service starting at noon and reducing restaurant operations back to 50%.
The course reversal comes as the number of people in Texas testing positive for COVID-19 neared 6,000 Thursday, hospitalizations have set new daily records for 14 days straight and the positivity rate — the number of people testing positive for the disease — in Texas increased above 10%.
“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10%, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Abbott. “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars. The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health.The targeted, measured directives in the executive order are based on links between certain types of businesses and services and the recent rise in positive cases throughout the state.”
The order includes the following:
- All bars and similar establishments that receive more than 51% of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages are required to close at noon today. These businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out, including for alcoholic beverages, as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
- Restaurants may remain open for dine-in service, but at a capacity not to exceed 50% of total listed indoor occupancy, beginning Monday.
- Rafting and tubing businesses must close.
- Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments, with certain exceptions.
“We want this to be as limited in duration as possible,” Abbott said. “However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part. Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay six feet apart from others in public, and stay home if they can. I know that our collective action can lead to a reduction in the spread of COVID-19 because we have done it before, and we will do it again.”
“We’ve watched the numbers climb with great concern, and we appreciate that Governor Abbott made a difficult decision today based on that data, which is not partisan,” the Texas Restaurant Association stated in a news release. “As we cautioned earlier this week, Governor Abbott has issued an Executive Order which does scale back several business operations, including restaurants and bars.”
It is TRA’s understanding that the order will not impact outdoor patios of restaurants.
Texas is one of several states that is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 following the loosening of restrictions put in place at the start of the pandemic. The worsening situation has led to criticism that Abbott moved too fast in allowing businesses to reopen.
The state’s major metropolitan areas are all being hit hard with rising cases and increased hospitalizations.
As of Thursday, the Texas Medical Center in Houston had exhausted 100% of its base ICU capacity and was on track to exceed available surge ICU capacity in two weeks.
Baylor College of Medicine infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez has been sounding the alarm for weeks.
Current trends in Houston/Harris County indicate the caseload will triple or quadruple by mid-July, Hotez said, citing modeling by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab. Such a scenario would be “apocalyptic,” he said. “We can’t go there.”