AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler told KXAN he’s “nervous and concerned” after Gov. Greg Abbott signaled on social media that coronavirus restrictions could soon be lifted on bars and nightclubs in Texas.
Abbott tweeted Monday that “Texans have continued to keep COVID under control,” adding, “I will be announcing more openings soon.” He shared an animated picture of two pints of beer with the caption “CHEERS!!!”
“Right now, I think that our community focus is in making sure that we can open schools, and we have to keep infections down community-wide to best have that chance, and bars present a risk,” Adler said.
Abbott’s post on Twitter was widely interpreted as a signal that some coronavirus restrictions on bars and nightclubs could soon be lifted. It is still unclear when he will make an announcement.
Michael Klein, president of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance, has been calling on the state to lift restrictions for months. He wants Abbott to follow the lead of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who lifted all state-level business restrictions in September.
“The science just doesn’t support what our membership and their employees have had to go through,” Klein told KXAN. “It was a sacrifice for no reason.”
Abbott first allowed bars to reopen in May, which he would later concede was too quick. The state reached its peak for transmission and hospitalizations in the weeks that followed and Abbott ordered the closure of bars once again on June 26.
When Abbott allowed bars to reopen in May, though, he had not yet issued a statewide mask order—a move public health officials said was paramount in slowing the spread of COVID-19. These factors are difficult to untangle according to Spencer Fox, a research associate with the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
“There’s people’s behavior that changes the pandemic course, and there’s also the policies which ultimately change people’s behavior,” Fox said. “Bars are known to be a high-risk location, that’s not to say they can’t be reopened in a safe manner that prevents transmission.”
Around 25% of the state’s 8,000 bars have been allowed to reopen as restaurants under relaxed rules by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a step Austin bar owner Bob Woody said helped keep the lights on but wasn’t profitable.
Woody is hopeful about the prospect of fewer restrictions on bars.
“It’s been difficult, so hopefully there’s some creativity there,” Woody said. “The very best would be to open with some seating and keep everybody happy, and then in two weeks, if we don’t see a tremendous spike, to go back to say, 50% capacity.”