Abbott: Bars to Stay Closed as Restaurants Move to 75 Percent Capacity

As hospitalization rates have decreased, the Texas governor says some food-and-drink operations can increase.

By Timothy Malcolm September 17, 2020

Restaurants in Harris County can increase their dining room size to 75 percent of normal capacity as of Monday, according to an announcement Thursday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

In addressing the current response to Covid-19 across Texas, Abbott said restaurants in hospital regions where less than 15 percent of all hospitalizations are for the coronavirus were able to move to 75 percent. In the Houston area, 6.9* percent of hospitalizations are for Covid-19.

Despite the good news for restaurants, bars are not allowed to re-open, saying they are hot spots for spreading the coronavirus, Abbott continued. 

According to the governor, the number of Covid-19 positive cases and deaths have decreased "significantly" since July. On July 15, the state reported 10,791 new confirmed cases, a one-day statewide high. Wednesday the state reported 3,409 new cases, and the two-week average of new cases has hovered around 4,000 per day. Similarly, on July 23, the state reported 272 deaths, a one-day statewide high. Wednesday the state reported zero deaths, and the two-week average of deaths has been about 35 per day.

Now that restaurants are soon to be increasing capacity, we'll all be watching those numbers to see if they continue to decline or, well, don't.

Back in May Abbott announced that bars could re-open to 25 percent of regular capacity, but weeks later he backtracked, saying bars were known to be areas where the virus could spread. Since then he's made no indication of when he will be reopening them. 

"It's devastating that it continues to be the case," says Alba Huerta, owner of Julep, one of Houston's most revered cocktail bars. "It's devastating that we're not addressed in a more formal matter with more options. We're sitting here hanging on a string waiting for the governor to acknowledge that we're a part of the economy and part of the landscape of our city."

Huerta says that she has received no communication from the state about reopening plans, or what options bars had to survive during the pandemic. Some bars have been able to apply for food and beverage licenses with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, allowing them the opportunity to reopen with more food options. Julep isn't built to handle a large menu; instead, it's delivering cocktails since bars can distribute drinks to-go. 

But those profits pale in comparison to the profits seen when people are staying at the bar.

"It's a fraction of what our business needs to survive," says Huerta. "Right now our spirits are broken. We don't see any kind of solution here and we're not getting any kind of solution."

*This percentage has been updated to reflect a new rate that was announced by the Houston Health Department after the story published.

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