AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County will not reopen its bars Wednesday and county leaders do not plan to reopen them for the next two weeks.
“I cannot in good conscience allow bars to reopen at 50% capacity at this time,” interim Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said in a statement early Wednesday. Biscoe said he would reevaluate his decision on Oct. 28.
Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order, bars in areas with less than a 15% hospitalization rate can reopen under the approval of its respective county judge. While surrounding county judges jumped at the chance to reopen bars, Biscoe waited until Wednesday to make a decision.
He cited a recent uptick in COVID-19 numbers for his reason to keep bars shuttered.
“Based on the memo from Dr. Mark Escott, COVID-19 continues to be a threat to Travis County. In the past ten days, Travis County has seen an increase in hospitalized individuals, ICU bed utilization, and ventilator use,” Biscoe said.
At Tuesday’s Commissioner’s Court meeting, Dr. Escott, the interim public health authority, reminded officials about a spike in hospitalizations in the county after a round of reopenings this summer.
“We were in a similar area of new cases and hospitalizations, and within three weeks, we were in a crisis. We can get there again if we relax too much,” he said.
Escott explained safety precautions were especially important in order to keep kids in school and businesses open.
“While it is important to identify avenues for our business community to reopen and thrive, we must continue to prioritize the health and safety of this community,” Dr. Escott said in a memo to Judge Biscoe, “and our ability to ensure that our schools can successfully stay open for in-person learning.”
Dr. Escott said in the memo recent data indicates “that we may experience an 87% increase in admissions, a 55% increase in hospital bed use, and a 64% increase in ICU bed utilization by November 1, 2020.”
Full statement from Judge Biscoe
“Based on the memo from Dr. Mark Escott, COVID-19 continues to be a threat to Travis County. In the past ten days, Travis County has seen an increase in hospitalized individuals, ICU bed utilization, and ventilator use. As such, I cannot in good conscience allow bars to reopen at 50% of capacity at this time. The risk to our public health is too great, especially now that students of all ages have returned to the classroom.Interim Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe
“As we move forward, I will continue to work with Dr. Escott to reevaluate data collected and in fourteen days will determine if Travis County is in a position to safely reopen bars. Until then, I encourage everyone to continue practicing safety measures that will help us reduce the transmission of COVID-19.”
KXAN reached out to the candidates up for Biscoe’s job and got their responses on the judge’s decision to not reopen bars.
Democratic candidate Andy Brown said he trusts Judge Biscoe’s judgement.
“[Judge Biscoe] weighed the risks and is protecting our community. I do know that any decision I make in the future will be made easier by the election of Joe Biden, who will provide leadership, clarity and a path to defeating COVID-19,” Brown said in a statement.
However, Republican candidate Michael Lovins said he ‘strongly disagreed’ with keeping county bars closed. He said the economic toll the pandemic has taken on businesses is devastating.
“The people of Travis County are intelligent people of good will who can make better choices for themselves and their businesses than the government can. COVID-19 is a serious health issue, and we all need to continue taking precautions,” Lovins said in a statement. “We also have to be serious about the economic devastation that these shutdowns have caused. Those who have been hit hardest by the shutdowns are the people who can least afford it. Keeping Travis County bars closed hurts more than bar owners—it also hurts the people who work there. The longer we essentially make their jobs illegal, the longer we delay their financial recovery and worsen their stress.”
Lovins said if he were county judge, he would allow bars to reopen if they so choose, and he would trust Travis County residents to take proper precautions and ‘act wisely.’