Gov. Greg Abbott closes bars, whittles back restaurant capacity as coronavirus cases climb in Texas

An employee at Cyclone Anaya's Tex-Mex Restaurant serves customers drinks.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued orders requiring bars to close June 26 and restaurants to limit their indoor capacity to 50% beginning June 29. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued orders requiring bars to close June 26 and restaurants to limit their indoor capacity to 50% beginning June 29. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

Earlier this week at a June 22 press conference, Gov. Greg Abbott stated closing down portions of Texas’ economy again would remain the state’s “last option.” Less than one week later, Abbott has exercised that option.

In the wake of surging coronavirus cases statewide that are leading to concerns about metropolitan-area hospitals’ ability to meet intensive care unit demands, Abbott on June 26 issued an executive order that closes all of the state’s bars by noon and restricts restaurant capacity to 50% as of 12:01 a.m. on June 29.

“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars. The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health,” Abbott said in a June 26 news release.

The order further mandates that rafting and tubing businesses across the state must cease operations. Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people, such as July 4 celebrations, are now prohibited unless given permission by local mayors and county judges.

Executives from the Texas Restaurant Association, a restaurant advocacy organization, on June 26 held a news conference with the news media to offer their reactions to Abbott’s order.

TRA President and CEO Emily Williams Knight said the organization had been reaching out to members telling them to prepare for possible new restrictions over the past week.

“You don’t have to be a mathematician or hospital administrator to know we need to do something to slow the spread [of coronavirus],” Williams Knight said.

Despite the increasing cases of coronavirus statewide, Williams Knight said she does not believe Abbott’s plan to reopen the state’s economy proved too aggressive.

“I do not question the way the state was reopened whatsoever,” Williamson Knight said.

After Abbott permitted bars to reopen with limited capacity May 22, the state began to issue permit suspensions to bars that were found to have violated compliance orders to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

According to a June 24 news release from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, 17 bars and restaurants were issued permit suspensions after an initial round of violation sweeps.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the TRA has compiled a “survival plan” for the state’s restaurants that includes relief funding and regulatory waiver requests from the state.

TRA officials June 26 echoed their request to Abbott to expand the capability of restaurants and bars to sell alcohol to go in sealed containers.

Further, the organization is asking for a chunk of the state’s pool of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds.

By the TRA’s estimate, approximately 700,000 restaurant industry jobs have been lost since mid-March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. To help restaurant owners stave off closures and ultimately bring back employees, the TRA is requesting $390 million in federal coronavirus relief funds from the state.

Texas received approximately $11 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, according to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“We feel that $390 million for a sector our size is a very fair ask,” said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, the vice president of government affairs and advocacy for the TRA.

Williams Knight added that the organization doesn’t expect any movement from the U.S. Congress until mid-to-late July at the earliest due to its upcoming July 4 recess.

This is a developing story that will be updated.
By Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. His byline has appeared in PublicSource, WESA-FM and Scranton-Times Tribune. Iain worked as the reporter for Community Impact Newspaper's flagship Round Rock/Pflugerville/Hutto edition and is now working as the editor for the Northwest Austin edition.


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