Travis County judge: Bars will not reopen, despite permission from governor to do so

Pedestrians walk down Sixth Street, passing bar Toulouse, which is closed. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe announced Oct. 14 that bars in the county would not reopen, despite permission from the governor to do so at 50% capacity. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Pedestrians walk down Sixth Street, passing bar Toulouse, which is closed. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe announced Oct. 14 that bars in the county would not reopen, despite permission from the governor to do so at 50% capacity. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Pedestrians walk down Sixth Street, passing bar Toulouse, which is closed. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe announced Oct. 14 that bars in the county would not reopen, despite permission from the governor to do so at 50% capacity. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Bars in Hays County, Williamson County and Bastrop County were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity starting Oct. 14, but Travis County bars will remain closed for now, according to an Oct. 14 announcement from County Judge Sam Biscoe.

Biscoe said in a statement that Travis County has seen an increase in hospitalizations, intensive care unit bed use and ventilator use in recent days.

"As such, I cannot in good conscience allow bars to reopen at 50% capacity at this time," Biscoe said in the statement. "The risk to our public health is too great, especially now that students of all ages have returned to the classroom."

Travis County remains at Stage 3 of coronavirus risk, according to Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County interim health authority, who said in a memo that modeling from The University of Texas indicates a 66% chance "of a worsening pandemic locally over the next month."

"While it is important to identify avenues for our business community to reopen and thrive, we must continue to prioritize the health and safety of this community and our ability to ensure that our schools can successfully stay open for in-person learning," Escott wrote. "Therefore, it is my recommendation that bars and similar establishments be prohibited from reopening at this stage."


Abbott announced Oct. 7 that bars could open to 50% capacity if county judges opted into his plan. According to the guidelines Abbott announced, facial coverings must be worn in bars by both employees and customers when 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.

"It's time to open them up," Abbott said in the Oct. 7 announcement. "If we continue to contain [COVID-19], then the openings, just like other businesses, should be able to expand in the near future."

In Hays County, Judge Ruben Becerra said his decision came after consultation with local officials, emergency management staff and health department staff.

"The majority of mayors and other elected officials were supportive but cautious," Becerra said in a release. "This is a public safety issue, and our goal is to always protect public safety,"

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said "it is time for all of our businesses to be open to serve our public" while following the governor's protocols in a statement.

"Our county residents have shown that they can be smart and protect themselves and others," Gravell said in the release.

Bars originally opened for five weeks in May and June but were forced to shut down again June 26 when coronavirus case numbers surged across the state. Beginning in August, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission outlined rules regarding how bars can reclassify as restaurants to reopen.

Bars such as Lavaca Street Bar—which has locations in South Austin, North Austin and downtown—took advantage of that opportunity to reclassify and reopen by adjusting their hours and menu to receive less than 51% of revenue from alcohol.

Max Moreland, partner and director of FBR Management, the group that runs Lavaca Street Bar, Lala's, Dumont's and other Austin bars, said the customer experience now is completely different.

"I understand safety first. We're being as safe as we can," Moreland told Community Impact Newspaper in August.
By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


MOST RECENT

Graphic visualization of coronavirus
UT experts predict a 96% chance of worsening COVID-19 rates in Travis County in coming weeks

Travis County's health authority says individual actions can still turn the tide.

Early voting at the Ben Hur Shrine Temple
Some Austin-area polling locations have recorded 10,000-plus votes through first week of early voting

Three Williamson County polling locations have each reported more than 10,000 ballots cast in the first week of early voting.

Capital Metro celebrated the opening of a renovated and expanded downtown Austin MetroRail hub Oct. 19. (Courtesy Capital Metro)
Capital Metro opens downtown Austin station and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

Photo of a wall of "I voted" stickers
More than 30% of Travis County voters have cast their ballot in first week of early voting

Both in-person voting and by-mail voting in Travis County are up compared to the first week of early voting in 2016.

Photo of the downtown metro station
Expanded MetroRail station opens in Austin's downtown

Captial Metro hosted a grand opening for the new station Oct. 19.

Callie Speer opened Holly Roller at 590 Rio Grande St., Austin, in 2017. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Downtown brunch and biscuit joint Holy Roller closes its doors

Owner Callie Speer opened the popular restaurant in the West Sixth Street area in 2017.

Photo of a "for sale" sign in front of a house
Austin home sales are on the comeback after bottoming out in early spring

Low inventory and a delayed summer boom in home sales resulted in high sales for Austin in September.

The public-access lagoon will serve as the centerpiece for more than 1 million square feet of commercial development, including a full-service hotel and conference center planned for the property. (Rendering courtesy city of Leander)
'Game changer' development with lagoon coming to Leander and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular news from the Austin area from the past week.

Austin City Council unanimously supported aiming its local stimulus package toward the long-term viability of local at-risk businesses. (Courtesy ATXN)
Austin City Council wants limited local stimulus package to help small businesses outlast pandemic, not just pay rent

Austin's mayor said he wants businesses helped by the program to be better off than they were before the pandemic.

The public-access lagoon will serve as the centerpiece for more than 1 million square feet of commercial development, including a full-service hotel and conference center planned for the property. (Rendering courtesy city of Leander)
4-acre lagoon coming to Leander and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.