Most Texas bars will be allowed to reopen for on-site services starting on October 14, Governor Greg Abbott announced last week, but the announcement stipulated that county governments must opt-in to the reopening, ultimately leaving the decision to individual county judges, not the state.
Most bars throughout Texas have been closed since Abbott rolled back his Reopen Texas plan in late June. Abbott has repeatedly pointed to bars as locuses for the spread of coronavuris, even while the state has made concessions to help them stay in business during the closure. Some bars have been able to implement food service and reopen as restaurants, while others have stuck to takeout cocktails. The plan that goes into effect tomorrow will allow bars to reopen without food service, so long as they meet special guidelines. (Bars in regions of Texas in which COVID-19 cases make up more that 15% of total hospitalizations will not be allowed to reopen at this time.)
Those guidelines include: 50 percent occupancy, implementing table service, closing off dance floors, and requiring masks for guests and employees. Brewery taprooms and winery/distillery tasting rooms can let customers stand at counters if they are sampling beverages, according to Eater Austin. And unlike restaurants, which can stay open and serve alcohol until 2 a.m., bars must close at 11 p.m.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has already announced that she will not allow bars in the country to reopen just yet, but Houston is a massive city, with neighborhoods and suburbs that spread into several neighboring counties. Here’s how those surrounding counties are dealing with Gov. Abbott’s newest reopening plan.
Shortly after Abbot’s reopening announcement, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo released a statement saying that “Indoor, maskless gatherings should not be taking place right now, and this applies to bars, as well.” When asked to clarify, a spokesperson for Hidalgo’s office said “The county will not be reopening bars at this time.” The move was unsurprising — Harris County took a proactive approach to cancelling events, requiring masks, and closing restaurants and bars before Abbott took the same actions statewide. No word yet on when Harris County might allow bars to reopen.
(Includes much of Houston, portions of Katy, Spring, Humble, Bellaire, Cypress, Pasadena)
Immediately after Abbott’s announcement last week, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry tweeted “I want to let small business owners know that I’ll be reopening bars immediately.” On October 8, in a Facebook video, Henry encouraged bars, specifically VFW and American Legion halls, to reopen immediately, before the order was set to go into effect on October 14.
(Includes Galveston Island, Bolivar Penninsula, Clear Lake, Kemah, most of Friendswood, most of League City)
Fort Bend County
During a regularly-scheduled Commissioner’s Court meeting this afternoon, Fort Bend Judge KP George announced that bars in the county would be allowed to reopen effective tomorrow, October 14.
“Our survey of bar owners and managers showed an overwhelming interest in reopening, and that they would be responsible and would implement the Department of Health services protocol.” George urged residents and business owners to wear masks and follow other guidelines, noting that if hospitalizations in Fort Bend go up again, bars might have to reclose. “This is not the time we let our guard down. Be safe, be smart and please don’t mess it up.”
(Includes Sugar Land, Richmond, Rosenberg, portions of Katy)
Montgomery County Judge posted to Facebook last week “I wholeheartedly believe all business should be open 100% not 75% or 50%.” As such, he decided to opt in to Abbott’s order and allow bars to reopen to 50% capacity on October 14.
(Includes Conroe, The Woodlands, Montgomery, Splendora, New Caney)
On October 9, the official Brazoria County Twitter account posted “It has been determined by Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta that the County meets the criteria of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order (GA-32) for opting in for bars to open at 50% capacity on 10/14.”
(Includes Lake Jackson, Freeport, Surfside Beach, Angleton, Alvin, Brazoria, Quintana)
On Monday, October 12, County Judge Jeff Branick announced that bars could reopen on October 14, but admonished bars that had opened prematurely or that weren’t following TABC rules, according to the Port Arthur News. “There are some bars that have been open claiming they’re more than 51 percent in food sales,” Branick said. “I know that is not correct. They’ve been packed. If you open some more up, you can at least spread some people out.”
(Includes Beaumont, Port Arthur, Port Neches)
In a statement released October 13 Chambers County Judge Jimmy Silva said that bars in the county will be able to reopen. “Chambers County is committed to assisting local business owners in their economic recovery,” the statement read. “But we must continue to make smart decisions regarding health and safety protocols to slow the spread of COVID019 in our county.”
(Includes Baytown, Anahuac, Beach City, Mont Belvieu)
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Waller County Judge Trey Duhon said he would allow bars to reopen. “It’s not like we have a ton of bars in Waller County, but the ones we do have are mostly mom-and-pop operations,” Duhon told the Chron. “They need to open. They’re hurting bad.”
(Includes Hempstead, Prairie View, portions of Katy)
Liberty County will reopen, according to Bluebonnet News. A story on the newspaper’s website quited Liberty County Judge Jay Knight as saying “I hereby ‘opt-in’ and will allow our TABC-licensed establishments in Liberty County to resume operations per the Governor’s order.”
(Includes Liberty, Cleveland, Dasietta)