AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a new executive order Friday to close bars at 12 p.m. Friday and then limit restaurants to 50% capacity starting Monday in order to help prevent further spread of COVID-19.
“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10%, the State of Texas would take further action,” Gov. Abbott said in a statement. “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.”
On Friday, the state reported a record 363 new hospitalizations. There are more than 5,100 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Texas. More than 5,700 new cases were reported, which is slightly lower than Thursday’s record of nearly 6,000 new cases.
Any establishment that receives more than 51% of its sales from alcohol must close their doors, but they are permitted to remain open for take-out and delivery.
Starting Monday, restaurants can remain open, but have to scale back capacity to 50%.
Rafting and tubing businesses must also close, and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must get approval from local governments.
“We want this to be as limited in duration as possible,” Gov. 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.”
Michael Klein, the president of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance, had no idea the order was announced until after he was contacted by KXAN for comment.
“I need to call you back,” he told KXAN’s Alex Caprariello about 10 minutes after Gov. Abbott released the order.
Later on, he issued a full statement, condemning the decision.
Governor Abbott’s Executive Order effective noon today indefinitely reclosing 51% mixed beverage licenses is unjust and irresponsible. As of June 25, there are 2,296 confirmed deaths statewide in Texas attributed to COVID-19 out of a total population of 29,900,000. This represents a 0.00007% death rate. Once again, our businesses are targeted for complete closure allowing zero income for hundreds of thousands of Texans employed by our industry. Meanwhile, no other business sector in Texas has been subject to any enforcement of social distancing and are allowed to continue to operate. The Governor’s decision is without any scientific evidence to suggest that 51% licenses are more responsible than other businesses which cater to the public for the spread of infectious disease.Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance
Other bar owners agree and think the characterization that bars are contributing to the growing rise in statewide positive coronavirus cases is unfair.
“For those who do it right, and sanitize and keep people safe and are passionate about following the rules and regulations, we are now being punished for this,” said Ryan Speegle, the owner and operator of the Spotlight Karaoke Bar and Grill. “It’s very emotional. It’s draining. Its hard. You put your entire life into something, you build something, you try to do things the right way and its unfair and unconstitutional.”
Bob Woody, the President of the East Sixth Street Community Association, says its our city that’s being unfairly targeted. Woody, who owns 12 bars in Austin, said the hot spots in Dallas and Houston have put everyone in Texas in jeopardy.
As of Wednesday, The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission had found 17 Texas bars violating state orders to maintain 50 percent capacity and six feet of social distancing. Four of those were in Austin.
Governor Abbott hasn’t set a timeline with this executive order, but Woody anticipates it to last around two weeks. He said that when people come back to the bars, there will be stricter guidelines that they will have to adhere to.
He mentioned capacity limits on outdoor patios, additional staff to maintain cleanliness and stricter guidelines to stop ordering at the bar top. In the meantime, some owners are considering cutting staff for a second time this year.
“My rent still needs to get paid. My employees still have lives to live. My family still needs to eat. Where is the assistance?” Speegle asked.
On Friday, the White House Coronavirus Task Force held a press conference, during which Dr. Deborah Birx included Austin among the most “concerning” metro areas.