Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all bars in the state closed for a second time Friday as Texas grapples with a record resurgence in coronavirus cases following a fast reopening last month.
In addition to bar closures, Abbott, a Republican, said restaurants will be required to return to 50 percent capacity, local governments will be given more authority to regulate gatherings of more than 100 people and rafting and tubing operators along popular rivers will close.
“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. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health.”
Abbott’s order came as the state has seen a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases this month. On Thursday, the number of hospitalizations soared past 4,700, doubling in under two weeks. The number of positive tests reached a record high the same day to nearly 6,000 cases, a record.
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The figures include a doubling of the infection rate to more than 10% — a mark Abbott said in May would be a “red flag” in his reopening plan, which at the time he said was backed by the White House.
He began easing restrictions in May and accelerated openings amid protests from conservatives and Republican lawmakers across the country in an effort to get local governments to reopen their devastated economies.
“The doctors told us at the time, and told anyone who would listen, this will be a disaster. And it has been,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat who is the county’s top official. “Once again, the governor is slow to act. He is now being forced to do the things that we’ve been demanding that he do for the last month and a half.”
Abbott warned more protocols could be implemented if containment measures don’t succeed.
“If we are unable to slow the spread over the next few weeks, then we will have to re-evaluate to the extent to which businesses are open,” he said Wednesday. “Because if it’s not contained in the next couple of weeks it will be completely out of control and Texas will have to ratchet back.”
Chairs are stacked on a table inside The Rustic bar in Houston. The restaurant and bar will be limited to 50 percent capacity after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday that he is shutting bars back down and scaling back restaurant capacity to 50 percent, in response to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Last weekend, Texas began enforcing social distancing guidelines in bars and suspended liquor licenses of many establishments, the Houston Chronicle reported. In a television interview on Thursday, Abbott said closing businesses was a last resort.
“Our goal is to make sure we put public health and safety first,” he said in an interview with KEYE CBS in Austin.
On Sunday, Abbott will join Vice President Mike Pence at a Dallas megachurch for an indoor “Celebrate Freedom” service. Local officials worry the event will lead to an uptick in infections even though social distancing measures are promised.
The Texas GOP is also moving ahead with a July convention in Houston, which won’t require face coverings.
On Friday, Florida announced it was suspending alcohol consumption in bars statewide. The news came as the state reported nearly 9,000 new COVID-19 cases, also a record.
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“Based on recent increases in COVID-19 cases and non-compliance with previous orders, DBPR has taken action to suspend on-premises alcohol sales at bars,” Halsey Beshears, secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.