Some Texas bars can reopen at 50% capacity soon, if county judge allows it


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Bars and nightclubs in areas with low COVID-19 hospitalizations will soon be able to reopen at a limited capacity, only if a county judge allows it, according to documents uploaded to Governor Greg Abbott’s website Wednesday afternoon.

The new guidelines, which will be effective Oct. 14, were posted a little after 3 p.m. You can read the protocols below.

The new bar guidelines will only apply to areas where COVID-19 hospitalizations are less than 15% of hospital capacity, according to Abbott’s office.

Abbott released a video on his Facebook page detailing the new loosened restrictions. He claimed Texans have been able to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, even with current school and business operations in place.

“Today the seven-day average for the positivity rate, for the number of new COVID cases, for hospitalizations and fatalities have remained steady since I made my last announcement,” he said in the video.

He reminded Texans that while these establishments can reopen, they must adhere to safety precautions.

“Bars must follow distancing and seating protocols, just like restaurants have used,” Abbott said.

Those safety protocols include:

  • Keeping dance floors closed.
  • Customers must be seated while eating or drinking (with limited exceptions for sampling at breweries, distilleries and wineries).
  • Customers must wear masks when not seated at a table.
  • Limiting tables to six people or less.
  • Following specific curfew guidelines.

Additionally, businesses including amusement parks, movie theaters, zoos, aquariums and bowling alleys can also expand to 75% capacity in counties with low hospitalizations starting Oct. 14.

Under the new guidelines, counties where hospitalizations are less than 15% of hospital capacity can also reopen all businesses other than bars to 75% capacity starting Oct. 14.

Previous bar reopening

In late May, the state allowed bars to reopen at 25% capacity. However, they were shut down again a month later in June, after the positivity rate rose above 10%.

In regards to the positivity rate then, Abbott said at the time “it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.”

In the video released Wednesday, he made it a point to address what will be different this time around with reopening bars. He said it should be more “successful.”

“First, everyone is much more informed about how fast COVID can spread,” he explained. “How it can overwhelm hospitals if not contained and what must be done to contain the spread.”

He also said protocols implemented this time around are better than ones used previously because they were made with input from bar owners and associations.

Lastly, he said the state is more prepared to test and treat people for COVID-19 than before. Abbott claimed the state is averaging more than 65,000 COVID-19 tests being administered per day. Starting next week, he plans on adding an additional 100,000 rapid-result tests every day.

“We simply now know better how to protect ourselves from getting COVID,” he said. “Everyone, everyone has the individual ability to avoid getting COVID and to avoid spreading COVID simply by following the safe practices that everyone has already learned.”

Abbott ended with a promise that if Texans continue to contain the virus, the state will be able to reopen 100%.

Central Texas judges react

Since the new guidelines put the fate of Texas bars in the hands of county judges, KXAN reached out to area judges for their input.

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said he wants to be the first judge in all of Texas to reopen bars.

“It is time for all of our businesses to be open to serve our public while following the Governor’s health protocols to be safe,” Gravell said in a statement. “Our county residents have shown that they can be smart and protect themselves and others, so I will be choosing for Williamson County to opt in on October 14.”

On behalf of Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, Public Information Officer Hector Nieto said Biscoe will be taking time to look over the order and consult with Austin-Travis County health authorities.

“Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe intends to take the next several days to speak with the County Attorney’s office and determine what authority has finally been returned to local governments based on Governor Abbott’s announcement.”

Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra also said he will be reaching out to local officials.

“We will be reaching out to all local officials to ensure we are considering all aspects of this change before we make any public comments on the direction of the county,” he said in a statement. “It is imperative that we take precaution and make all efforts to ensure that our decision is made in the best interest of our community.”

Abbott teased loosening COVID-19 restrictions on bars and nightclubs in the state Monday, after he tweeted a GIF of a drink glass with the caption “CHEERS!!!”

Reopening Texas bars concerned Austin Mayor Steve Adler. He said on Tuesday the main priority for the state right now should be to keep infections down, so schools can continue to reopen.

Watch Gov. Abbott’s announcement:

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