Texas Closes Down Bars as New Virus Cases Spike

The move comes a day after the governor abruptly halted the state’s reopening and suspended elective surgeries to free up hospital beds.

Tubers float the Comal River in New Braunfels, Texas, on Thursday despite the recent spike in Covid-19 cases. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Friday ordered bars closed and reduced restaurant capacity back down to 50%, in an about-face from his push to reopen the state as Covid-19 cases have spiraled out of control.

Abbott, a Republican, issued Executive Order GA 28, which requires restaurants to reduce capacity from 75% to 50% by June 29. The limit also applies to museums, libraries and outdoor activities including sporting events, swimming pools, water parks, zoos, rodeos, river-rafting businesses and amusement parks.

Bars that generate less than 51% of their gross revenue through alcohol sales are allowed to stay open and reduce their occupancy to 50% by June 29, while bars that generate more than 51% through alcohol sales are ordered to close by noon Friday.

Abbott cited the increase in positive Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations and the positive test rate rising above 10% in issuing the order.

“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars. The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and enhance public health,” he said in a statement.

Abbott further ordered all gatherings of 100 or more people must seek approval from local authorities. The order exempts houses of worship, local government buildings, child-care services, youth camps and recreations sports programs.

The governor has face heavy criticism for reopening Texas in phases too soon starting May 1 after local authorities imposed stay-at-home orders in March to mitigate the spread of the respiratory disease. After weeks of refusing to wear a face mask and being upbeat about reviving the state’s economy, Abbott admitted Monday that he would shut down the state again as a “last resort.” Covid-19 cases have spiked since Memorial Day and set new highs for several consecutive days.

Texas has reported 131,917 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 2,296 deaths as of Friday morning, according to the Department of State Health Services.

Abbott’s order comes one day after he abruptly halted the state’s current reopening phase and ordered a suspension of elective surgeries at hospitals to free up beds. Several hospitals in Texas’ largest cities have reported this week intensive care units at or near capacity.

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” Abbott said Thursday. “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business.”

Abbott has steadfastly refused to order people to wear masks in public to mitigate the disease’s spread and has instead pleaded with Texans to voluntarily wear masks out of consideration for their neighbors and high-risk people. Local officials have resorted to ordering businesses to require employees and customers to wear masks or face fines of up to $1,000 to get around Abbott’s refusal. Critics have blasted the governor for making the issue of wearing a face mask political.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, attacked Abbott and governors of Republican-leaning states Thursday for ignoring the science in reopening too soon.

“You played politics with this virus and you lost,” he said. “You told the people of this state, you told the people of this country, the White House, ‘Don’t worry about it. Go about your business. This is all Democratic hyperbole.’ Oh, really?”

Republican Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick angrily fired back, saying Cuomo “is probably the biggest fraud” out of all the governors in the country.

“He had about 6,000 people die in nursing homes, we have had less than 1,000,” Patrick said Thursday evening. “That is on top of the other people who have died in New York. He short-changed the people of New York and cost people their lives. How dare he come on and point his finger at any other governor?”

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