Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is giving most counties in the state the opportunity to reopen their bars, brewpubs and wineries for on-site consumption, but Harris County plans to keep those businesses off-limits for the time being.
After Abbott issued an executive order Wednesday afternoon that allows bars and similar alcohol-oriented businesses to open at 50 percent capacity on Oct. 14 — in counties with low COVID-19 hospitalization rates and at the discretion of county judges — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo released a statement saying it is too early for the region to take such a step.
Hidalgo kept the county’s COVID-19 threat level at red, its highest level, after Abbott relaxed pandemic-related restrictions on restaurants and most other businesses in late September.
“The data guiding county decision-making tells us we are doing much better than we were a few months ago, but we are still at the highest level: red,” Hidalgo said. “Indoor, maskless gatherings should not be taking place right now, and this applies to bars as well.”
Abbott’s order applies to counties with COVID-19 hospitalization rates at 15 percent or less for a period of at least seven consecutive days. As of Wednesday, 4.8 percent of all hospital patients in Harris County were COVID-19 patients.
There have been a total of 149,394 cases of COVID-19 in Houston and Harris County, with the disease having caused at least 1,996 deaths among residents and 126,593 patients having recovered. In the six zip codes served by The Leader — 77007, 77008, 77009, 77018, 77091 and 77092 — there have been 5,797 cases, at least 93 deaths and 4,566 recoveries.
The daily number of reported cases in the county has steadily declined since reaching a peak July 1, with 58 new cases having been reported on Tuesday.
After bars were forced to close in March, when the pandemic reached Texas, Abbott allowed them to reopen May 22. He ordered them closed again June 26 after a statewide spike in cases, which he attributed in part to his reopening of bars.
Abbott’s Wednesday order also allows most businesses other than bars to increase their on-premise capacity to 75 percent of their building occupancies on Oct. 14.
“Even as more businesses have opened and students return to school, Texans have shown we can contain the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement on the governor’s website. “… Opening bars does not mean that COVID-19 is no longer a threat, and most Texans are still susceptible to the virus. As bars and similar businesses begin to open, we all must remain vigilant and show personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
Bars, brewpubs and wineries already can be open for to-go sales. Many also have reopened for on-site consumption by taking advantage of relaxed permitting requirements by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which in August made it easier for those businesses to obtain food and beverage permits and reclassify themselves as restaurants by offering food services along with alcohol.