UPDATE: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo released a statement that she will not allow bars to reopen. It reads in part: "The data guiding county decision-making tells us we are doing much better than we were a few months ago, but we are still at the highest threat level: red. Indoor, maskless gatherings should not be taking place right now, and this applies to bars, as well.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will allows bars to reopen in most parts of the state on October 14 at 50 percent capacity. Speaking on his Facebook page on October 7, Abbott cited the continued decline in positivity and hospitalization rates for COVID-19 as the reason for his decision.
In addition to allowing bars to reopen, Abbott also granted river tubing operations the ability to reopen at the same 50 percent capacity. Amusement parks, movie theaters, zoos, aquariums, and bowling alleys may expand to 75 percent capacity from 50 percent capacity.
Abbott left the decision whether to reopen bars to individual county judges, granting them the authority to opt into the reopenings provided they agree to enforce protocols such as maintaining social distancing between parties and restaurant-style seating requirements.
The decision comes less than a month after the governor allowed restaurants to increase their capacity to 75 percent. At the time, Abbott ordered that bars remain closed, although many have reopened by taking advantage of changes to TABC regulations that allow them to operate as restaurants.
Since shutting bars in March, they’ve only been open for a brief in period in June that Abbott ended when COVID infections rates spiked. He cited three reasons why he thinks this reopening will be more successful: people are more informed about how quickly the virus can spread, Texas has better protocols in place for controlling the virus’ spread, and the state has vastly expanded testing capabilities, up to 65,000 per day.
“Opening bars does not mean that COVID is no longer a threat,” Abbot said. “Most Texans are still susceptible to it. We simply now know better how to protect ourselves from getting COVID. Everyone has the individual ability to avoid getting COVID and avoid spreading COVID by following the safe practices everyone has already learned.”
Texas has over 71,000 active cases of COVID-19, according to a dashboard maintained by the Department of State Health Services. More than 16,000 Texans have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.