While Texas Bars Can Open to 50-Percent Capacity, They Probably Won't in Harris County

Gov. Greg Abbott also announced that other businesses at a 50-percent cap can boost operations.

By Timothy Malcolm October 7, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott during his Wednesday, October 7, announcement. 

Updated 10:15 p.m. Oct 7

While bars in Galveston and Montgomery counties will open, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted yesterday that she's leaning against opening bars.

Published 4:23 p.m. Oct 7

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued an executive order that allows bars or similar establishments across Texas to reopen and operate at up to 50-percent capacity for in-person service starting October 14.

"It is time to open them up," said Abbott in a video posted on his Facebook page Wednesday afternoon. "Bars must follow distance and seating protocols, just like restaurants have used, as well as other protocols that are intended to contain the spread of Covid."

According to an update to the state's minimum standard health protocols for Covid-19, all employees and customers at bars must wear a face covering over the nose and mouth "wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another individual not in the same household, except when seated at the bar or similar establishment to eat or drink." Also, tables should "generally" be at least six feet from one another, dance floors are supposed to be closed, and employees should be screened before coming into the establishment.

The protocols also state that establishments like bars don't have an occupancy limit outdoors.

Abbott first closed bars in March as the coronavirus was first spreading through Texas. He reopened bars at 25-percent capacity in May, but weeks later he backtracked, saying bars were known to be areas where the virus could propagate. Restaurants have since been able to reopen and are now allowed to seat up to 75 percent of regular capacity in their dining rooms. Until now, bars and river tubing operations, which will also be able to reopen at 50-percent capacity on October 14, were the only types of businesses that remained closed by the state. 

Finally, Abbott said Wednesday that businesses that are currently allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity, like movie theaters, amusement parks, zoos, aquariums, and fine-art galleries, can now operate at 75-percent capacity.

There is a caveat to all of this, though. Re-openings can only take place in hospital regions where the Covid-19 hospitalization rate is less than 15 percent of hospital capacity. Plus, county judges must opt their counties into these new openings. 

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