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Gov. Greg Abbott orders Texas bars to close again and restaurants to reduce to 50% occupancy as coronavirus spreads

by The Texas TribuneJun 26, 2020
Gov. Greg Abbott at a press conference at the state Capitol in Austin on Monday, June 22, 2020.
Gov. Greg Abbott at a press conference at the state Capitol in Austin on Monday, June 22, 2020. Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell/Pool/American-Statesman

By Patrick Svitek | The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday took his most drastic action yet to respond to the post-reopening coronavirus surge in Texas, shutting bars back down and scaling back restaurant capacity to 50%.

He also shut down river-rafting trips and banned outdoor gatherings of over 100 people unless local officials approve.

“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 news release. "The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health."

Bars must close at noon Friday, and the reduction in restaurant capacity takes effect Monday. Before Abbott's announcement Friday, bars were able to operate at 50% capacity and restaurants at 75% capacity.

[ Read more: Texas’ coronavirus positivity rate exceeds “warning flag” level Abbott set as businesses reopened ]

As for outdoor gatherings, Abbott's decision Friday represents his second adjustment in that category this week. Abbott on Tuesday gave local governments the choice to place restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 100 people after previously setting the threshold at over 500 people. Now outdoor gatherings of over 100 people are prohibited unless local officials explicitly approve of them.

Abbott's actions Friday were his first significant moves to reverse the reopening process that he has led since late April. He said Monday that shutting down the state again is a last resort, but the situation has been worsening quickly.

Abbott put Texas under what was effectively a stay-at-home order for most of April, shutting down all but businesses considered essential by the state. After letting that order expire at the end of April, he moved forward with a phased reopening of the state that was one of the earliest and quickest in the country. By early June, Abbott had permitted almost all business to open at at least 50% capacity.

But cases have climbed rapidly in recent weeks. On Thursday, Texas saw another record number of new cases Thursday—5,996—as well as hospitalizations—4,739. The hospitalization number set a record for the 14th straight day. There has also been rapid rise in the state's positivity rate, or the ratio of tests that come back positive. The rate, presented by the state as a seven-day average, has gone up to 11.76% — where it was at in mid-April and above the 10% threshold that Abbott has said would cause alarm for the reopening process.

Abbott specifically cited the positivity rate in explaining his actions Friday.

“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10%, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," he said.

On Thursday, he announced the state was putting a pause on any future reopening plans, though none were scheduled and the announcement did not affect businesses that were already allowed to reopen. Earlier in the day, Abbott sought to free up hospital space for coronavirus patients by banning elective surgeries in four of the state's biggest counties: Bexar, Travis, Dallas and Harris.

[ Read more: As evictions resume in Texas, unemployed renters have few options ]

"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," Abbott said. "Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay six feet apart from others in public, and stay home if they can."

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This article is republished with permission from The Texas Tribune. Read the original post here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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