Abbott orders bars to close, restaurants to 50 percent capacity


Texas will order bars and some outdoor recreation businesses to close once again in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus as the number of infections mount across the state.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced the decision in a statement Friday morning amid rising cases in the state.

"At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said in a statement.

"The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health. We want this to be as limited in duration as possible. However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part."

While other states have paused their reopening plans as the number of new cases rises, Texas will become the first state in the country to reimpose a lockdown that had previously been lifted.

Abbott’s new order requires bars to shut down by noon on Friday. It also requires rafting and tubing businesses to close, activities popular with younger people who are contracting the coronavirus at increased rates in recent weeks. And it requires any gathering of 100 or more people to be approved by local governments.

Restaurants may remain open, but they may only operate at 50 percent capacity.

The renewed crackdown is a sign of just how quickly the situation in Texas has gone from seemingly manageable to virtually out of control. Texas has reported more than 5,400 new cases of the coronavirus on each of the last three days, setting successively higher one-day records.

Abbott initially imposed a statewide lockdown in mid-March, when Texas had confirmed only 161 cases of the virus.

That lockdown slowed the spread dramatically. Through April, Texas was averaging about 830 confirmed cases per day. In May, the daily average grew to 1,167 cases per day.

Abbott allowed the first restaurants to reopen on May 1, operating at just 25 percent capacity. Bars reopened on May 22, also at a limited capacity.

Texas moved into phase three of its reopening plan on June 3, when bars were allowed to operate at half capacity.

The number of coronavirus cases had already begun to spike once Texas moved to phase three. The state has reported more than 1,000 cases a day on all but two days in June, and it has reported more than 3,000 new cases over each of the last 10 days.

Cases are rising particularly fast in the state's four largest cities. Houston and its surrounding counties have already hit peak hospital capacity, local officials said. Medical centers in the Houston area are using additional bed space they prepared over the last several months.

"The hospitals are beginning to go into their surge capacity. Those surge beds, the majority of them are not designed to be long term," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) said on Thursday. "The concern is these trends we're looking at to project out, they show we would run out of all beds, including surge beds, within the next 10 to 40 days, and every day [that range] gets shorter."

The projections are similarly grim in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, though those cities are a few days behind Houston in case growth. Dallas and neighboring Tarrant County have reported about 28,000 cases, San Antonio has 7,800 cases and there are almost 7,000 cases in the Austin area, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"Everything we can do, we're doing," Hidalgo said. "But it's just not enough.”

Comments