AUSTIN, Texas - A mural of a bar with smiling patrons drinking and busy waiters serving up drinks is located outside of Darwin’s Pub, a reminder of how things used to look like on 6th Street.
Padlocks, deadbolts, and plywood are the new reality for many bar owners in Travis County.
“Now is not the time to take a substantial risk associated with COVID-19 transmission,” said Dr. Mark Escott, explaining why he believes it's necessary to block the opportunity for all local bars to reopen. “This was based on the concerning trend that we’ve been seeing on the past week, in terms of our hospital beds being utilized, ICU beds and ventilators, as well as projections from UT’s Modeling Consortium, that indicates a 66% chance of increasing epidemic over the next month, this would put us at significant increases in admissions to the hospitals, and hospital beds being utilized and ICU beds being utilized by November 1st."
Bar owner Bob Woody has been able to stay afloat by operating many of his properties under TABC’s restaurant classification. As chairman of the Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance, Woody believes Wednesday’s decision will be too much for others to overcome.
“There were several hanging on that I represent that are no longer going to make an effort to try because there is an uncertainty as to where this is headed, how long it can go on,” said Woody.
The decision to opt-in or out of Governor Abbott’s reopening plan was officially up to County Judge Sam Biscoe. He declined an on-camera interview, but in a statement, Judge Biscoe said his decision was based on Escott’s recommendation:
“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."
A map created by TABC shows how Travis County is an opt-out island and is the only county in the Austin metro area not allowing bars to reopen. Statewide, Travis County is not alone; most of the big cities in Texas are also opting out.
“We are seeing that these larger population areas are more concerned about the risks and I think we are going to make recommendations based on the science, and that’s the recommendations we provided Judge Biscoe,” said Escott.
Judge Biscoe and Dr. Escott said they will revisit the issue in about two weeks and may consider a smaller phased-in approach. Woody believes that will be two weeks too late.
“And then to of course say well you are already dead, we are going to kill you again, that’s what Biscoe has done with bars in Travis County, you could only kill so many times,” said Woody.
For the bars that are located in the opt-in counties, it's important to note that the reopening plan is flexible not permanent. If COVID-19 cases spike in those counties, the bars will probably have to scale back or close again.
On a Dallas-area radio talk show Wednesday, Gov. Abbott indicated he was also thinking about the possibility in the near future of overruling county judges in counties where COVID-19 cases continue to drop. However, Abbott noted nothing official was being considered at this time.
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