COVID spread prompts Abbott to shutter Texas bars
Gov. Greg Abbott closed bars and limited restaurant occupancy Friday, one day after pausing additional efforts to reopen Texas amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Texas on Friday surpassed 5,000 current coronavirus hospitalizations for the first time in the pandemic, with 5,102 reported Friday, a record for a 15th day in a row. Just a week ago, Texas had not yet crossed the 3,000-hospitalization mark.
The state reported 5,707 new COVID-19 cases Friday, the fourth consecutive day of 5,000-plus new cases.
Abbott’s newest executive order required Texas bars to close at noon Friday, although those businesses can still remain open for delivery and take out, including for alcoholic beverages. Restaurant dining rooms can remain open, but the order immediately moves occupancy levels from 75% to 50% with some exceptions.
“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10%, the state of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement, referring to percentage of tests that come back positive. “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars. The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health.”
Restaurants with less than 51% of their gross receipts from alcohol sales may remain at 75% until Monday before moving down to 50% occupancy.
Rafting and tubing businesses also must close, and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more must be approved by local governments. There are exceptions for professional and collegiate sports, swimming pools, water parks, museums, libraries, zoos and rodeo and equestrian events, which can remain open without approval from local governments but must operate at 50% occupancy.
It’s the latest restriction by Abbott, who is balancing surging COVID-19 numbers and pressure from his own political party to keep Texas open for business.
Abbott’s latest order still allows houses of worship, child care services, local government operations and youth camps to remain open.
Thursday marked the first time Abbott has responded with statewide restrictions since reopening the state.
Abbott halted elective surgeries in Travis, Bexar, Harris and Dallas counties. He also announced he would temporarily pause the state’s additional reopening phases but declined to roll back previous orders that allowed businesses to expand their occupancy levels.
It’s unclear when Abbott will allow further phases of reopening.