AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Bars in Texas were allowed to open Wednesday where the county judge has signed off as part of the Governor’s updated executive orders.
Almost half of the state’s county judges gave bars the green light to reopen, following guidance that COVID-19 hospitalizations in their area are less than 15% of the hospital capacity.
According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, approximately 35,000 businesses are labeled as “on premise locations,” or businesses that serve alcohol. About 8,000 of those were considered bars and were forced to close during the pandemic.
When the agency advised businesses they could serve food and re-categorize as restaurants to open their doors, about 2,000 opted to do that — leaving roughly 6,000 bars eligible for reopening on Wednesday, pending county approval.
This map is updated daily by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission
Establishments must follow some extra rules, including a mandate that bartenders stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m.
“They can still remain open, but just obviously they won’t be able to sell or serve alcohol during that time,” Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokesperson Chris Porter said.
The agency is relying on partnerships with local law enforcement to help keep tabs on compliance.
“The local governments in this case, are also fully empowered to enforce the governor’s executive orders, and when the county judges sign the forms attesting that their counties are eligible to reopen, they also agree to help enforce the governor’s guidelines,’ Porter said.
“Our agents will be out conducting our own inspections — as will local sheriff, some local police departments and other local health and safety officials across the state,” Porter explained. “Anyone is able to look at these locations and find out if there’s a potential issue.”
Inspectors are monitoring two key components — social distancing and capacity limits.
Business owners whose livelihoods depend on the bar scene hope they’re able to return to some kind of normal soon.
The team at Austin IceWorks delivers ice daily to bars, restaurants and businesses hosting special events. The company’s owner, Aric Jordan, said they’ve managed to tread water despite losing out on major events like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits.
“Austin’s way of life is just taking a real hit,” Jordan said. “Those things that we’ve come to cherish that mark our calendar throughout the year have not existed in 2020.”
Delivery driver Frankie Mendez is grateful restaurants have continued to place orders, and he hopes adding bars back on to the client list will be good for business.
“As more places have been opening or finding ways to open business has picked up a little bit,” Mendez said.
Some counties chose to hold off on opting in to the reopening process, citing COVID-19 concerns from local public health officials.
“We know where transmission is happening, it’s happening in these social settings,” Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin Public Health said Wednesday.
Meantime, Jordan hopes to see nightlife surge back to what it once was.
“Until everybody feels comfortable, it’s going to be difficult,” he said.