This Week, Bars Can Open, Restaurants Can Move to Half Capacity

Gov. Greg Abbott says we can live in a world where we "co-exist with COVID-19."

By Timothy Malcolm May 18, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order Monday that further relaxed COVID-19-related restrictions on hospitality businesses throughout the state, despite continued reported increases in the incidence of the coronavirus statewide.

According to the order, issued in a press conference, Texas restaurants can continue dine-in service while increasing to a maximum of 50 percent its normal capacity. Also, bars, wine tasting rooms, and brewery taprooms across the state can now re-open to 25 percent of its normal capacity.

All businesses that are open must adhere to a list of guidelines that include keeping patrons at least six feet from one another. 

Abbott said in his press conference that long-term reductions in the rate of positive COVID cases, along with stronger response to the virus, have led to this decision; further, his goal is for Texans to "co-exist with COVID-19 as safely as possible."

"By using safe practices we are slowing the spread," said Gov. Abbott. "We are getting through this, but now more than ever we need to work together as one Texas."

Three weeks ago, the governor issued an order to re-open restaurants and some small businesses with the caveat that those establishments must maintain at maximum a seating capacity of 25 percent of its normal capacity. That order went into effect May 1 when the state's Department of Health and Human Services had reported 29,229 cases of COVID-19; as of Sunday, the cumulative case count had risen to more than 47,784. COVID-19-related fatalities had risen, as well, from 816 on May 1 to 1,336 on Sunday. Gov. Abbott said in his conference that the increase in positive cases comes with the ramping up of COVID-19 testing.

If re-opening, bars must follow minimum standard health protocols, per the Governor's Strike Force to Open Texas. They include:

  • No loitering at the bar or commonly trafficked areas; guests must remain seated at tables.
  • Dancing is discouraged.
  • Hand sanitizing stations should be available upon entry.
  • Orders must be received at the table or by web or phone app.

Customers are asked to limit groups to six people, at most. Also, those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 are recommended not to go to bars and other public establishments.

The re-opening of bars will end what has been more than a 50-day work stoppage. According to the Texas Restaurant Association, more than 75,000 jobs were lost statewide, and about $630 million in gross revenue was impacted.

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