Governor Greg Abbott announced that bars may be allowed to reopen on October 14 at 50 percent capacity in accordance with other Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulations, provided they receive approval from the county judge of each county.
Rafting and tubing businesses, which have also been closed since June, are also permitted to reopen next week under certain regulations.
“It is time to open them up,” said Abbott in an announcement video on Wednesday.
Current businesses limited to a 50 percent capacity, such as amusement parks and movie theaters, will be allowed to expand to a 75 percent capacity.
“Bars must follow distance and seating protocols, just like restaurants have used,” said Abbott.
Detailed regulations and protocols can be found here.
The governor specified that the expansions apply only in state hospital regions where COVID-19 hospitalizations are less than 15 percent of capacity.
“County judges will be able to opt their counties into these openings beginning on October 14, provided that they assist in the enforcing of safe protocols,” said Abbott.
Abbott claimed that there are three reasons why the new reopenings “will be more successful than they were last time” — everyone is “much more informed about how fast COVID can spread,” protocols are “better” this time, and the state is better equipped to test and treat Texans for the virus.
Abbott teased his announcement earlier this week on social media, posting a GIF of clinking beer glasses and stating, “I will be announcing more openings soon. Cheers!”
The governor announced expanded capacity limits to 75 percent last month, but specifically excluded bars from the order.
“I had explained then that the spread of COVID had been cut by more than half since July, but I also noted that we needed to see the COVID spread continue to be contained before additional openings could be made safely,” said Abbott on Wednesday.
Bar owners have voiced extreme frustration about the extended closure, with many being driven out of business because of the mandated closures.
A lawsuit was filed by bar owners against the governor, but has been left pending in a Travis County district court.
After Abbott’s announcement, the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance released a statement criticizing the governor for passing the onus for reopening bars to county executives.
“We are extremely shocked by the announcement made today. When other Governors around the country, like Ron DeSantis, continue to lead and set a course for economic and social recovery for their states, today our Governor punted,” the group stated.
“Texas bars and nightclubs are now the official scapegoat of the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, executives of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and the Texas Craft Spirits PAC lauded the governor for the announcement.
According to COVID-19 data from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the coronavirus testing positivity rate based on the date of the test has fallen from a drastic high of 20.6 percent in early July to around 6.4 percent throughout late September.
Likewise, the number of new coronavirus-related fatalities and hospitalizations have plummeted from a peak in July.
A strict statewide lockdown began in March and Abbott began lifting some restrictions throughout May.
With the surge of cases in June, Abbott tightened some restrictions and then issued a statewide mask mandate at the beginning of July, just a few days before Independence Day.
A detailed breakdown of coronavirus cases and the governor’s policies from March through September can be found here.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include statements from organizations affected by Abbott’s announcement.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.