AUSTIN, Texas - In an announcement on social media, Governor Greg Abbott said it’s time for bars to reopen. However, he left the decision to opt into that reopening up to county judges.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Bob Woody, chairman of the board of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance.
Dozens of bars in Austin have already started operating after reclassifying as restaurants under TABC’s guidelines released in August.
In an announcement on social media, Governor Greg Abbott said it’s time for bars to reopen. However, he left the decision to opt into that reopening up to county judges.
For those unable to meet the qualifications for that, this could be their first chance to welcome customers back since they were shut down for the second time in June.
“Until now only two types of businesses have not been open since July, one is river tubing operations and the other is bars. It is time to open them up,” Abbott said in a video posted to Facebook.
Abbott said he will allow bars to reopen at 50 percent occupancy in counties where COVID-19 hospitalizations make up less than 15 percent of hospital capacity. However, he won’t make the call on where to open bars himself.
“These openings will be done in conjunction with county officials. County judges will be able to opt their county into these new openings beginning October 14 provided they assist in enforcing the safe protocols,” said Abbott.
“It’s not making a decision to do something it’s getting it off your desk,” Woody said.
A spokesman for Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said the judge will work with the county attorney in the coming days to figure out what authority is being handed back to county leaders. In a statement, he writes in part, “...He will continue to confer with the Austin-Travis County Health Authority to chart out the County's safest route to ensuring a healthy population and economy."
“So [Biscoe] has the opportunity to be the individual who saved all the bars and clubs in Travis County. If he chooses to keep them closed, then, come November 3, we should very much consider how we vote in regards to having them open or having them closed,” said Woody.
Meanwhile, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell plans to be the first county judge in Texas to opt-in. He writes in part, “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. Our county residents have shown that they can be smart and protect themselves and others...”
“I am absolutely sure that out of 254 counties, more than 245 will begin serving alcohol immediately. There’s really just about ten that may decide not to and those are counties that typically go another direction, politically, than the governor,” Woody said.
Bars that do open will have to follow social distancing guidelines. Customers will have to be seated, groups will be limited to six, dance floors will remain closed and masks will be required when walking to or from a table. The governor said by following those protocols, Texans can make sure bars don’t have to shut down for a third time this year.
“So opening bars does not mean that COVID is no longer a threat. Most Texans are still susceptible to it. We simply now know better how to protect ourselves from getting COVID,” said Abbott.
The governor also said businesses already operating at 50 percent capacity can move to 75 percent next week. All the changes mentioned take effect on October 14.
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