Back It Up

Newest Covid-19 Spike Means Restaurants Rolling Back, Bars to Close

Things have changed since the last time this happened, but the coronavirus is still going strong.

By Timothy Malcolm January 5, 2021

Once again, we're going backwards.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo confirmed Tuesday that for the seventh consecutive day, at least 15 percent of all hospital beds in our trauma service region, which includes Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties, were used to treat Covid-19.

Seven consecutive days, according to an executive order signed October 7 by Gov. Greg Abbott, triggers a mandatory rollback of businesses, primarily in the hospitality sector. The result: Now, restaurants can only let in 50 percent of their normal capacity of dine-in customers, while bars across the region have to close temporarily.

Other counties affected by being in the trauma service region include Austin, Colorado, Matagorda, Walker, Waller, and Wharton.

"Honestly, this is just another milestone on the road to a catastrophe unless each of us acts," wrote Hidalgo in a tweet Tuesday. "We can't rely on a small occupancy rollback. Do your part."

Bars will remain closed and restaurants will remain at 50 percent of normal capacity until the service area experiences seven consecutive days where Covid-19 patients compose fewer than 15 percent of total hospital capacity.

While the order will affect plenty of bars in the region, many bars over the fall re-certified as restaurants under a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission definition stating that less than 51 percent of all gross receipts are from the sale of alcoholic beverages. So far, 640 bars in Harris County have gotten restaurant permits.

As for restaurants, the rollback could seriously impact sales. Many operators have expressed to Houstonia over the past several months that restaurants can't turn a profit with a dining room at 50 percent of regular capacity. That said, operators have also shared that there isn't much difference between a dining room at 50 percent and 75 percent, as it's difficult to arrange the space to fit any more seats safely.

This isn't the first time we've been here. After Gov. Greg Abbott opened bars and restaurants in May, he backtracked a few weeks later by closing bars and rolling back on dining room capacity. Since then we've experienced steady increases in capacity allowances, that is until now. Covid-19 hasn't gone away; in fact, it's more prevalent than ever

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