Texas Again Orders Bars to Close, Restaurants to Reduce Capacity Amid Coronavirus Surge — Updated
After a record 5,996 new COVID-19 cases in Texas were reported yesterday, Governor Greg Abbott has ordered bars to once again close and restaurants to drop back to 50% guest occupancy. The order that restaurants reduce capacity goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, June 29.
Bars are to close by noon on Friday, June 26 (and most don’t even open until afternoon at the earliest). However, it’s worth noting that the phrasing of that section of the new order seems directed more at individuals than bar owners: “People shall not visit bars or similar establishments that hold a permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and are not restaurants […]”.
The first shutdown of bars was ordered on March 16. These were allowed to reopen on May 22 at 25% capacity and increase capacity to 50% on June 3. This time around, the order seems to leave an avenue for bars to continue doing business under a to-go and delivery model. The relevant verbiage reads, “that the use by such bars or similar establishments of drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options for food and drinks is allowed to the extent authorized by TABC.” (Note that a “bar” is defined as a business that gets 51% or more of its revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages.)
According to a chart on the TABC website that defined which establishments are allowed to offer to-go and delivery of alcohol, businesses with a mixed beverage permit can offer these services, “if they have permanent food service capabilities.” That’s thanks to a waiver issued earlier this year by Abbott that allowed to-go and delivery alcohol for the first time in Texas. However, wine and beer must be in sealed bottles and mixed drinks are not allowed. However, sealed spirits of up to 375 millilitres are allowed, so many restaurants are offering these as part of cocktail kits.
Houston Food Finder has contacted the TABC for clarification on the verbiage of the order as it relates to bars. This article will be updated when we receive a response.
Unlike during the first shutdown, this time Abbott has not ordered restaurants to close dining rooms and offer to-go and delivery only, instead only requiring that owners reduce guest capacity from 75% to 50%. However, some restaurant owners are voluntarily doing rolling back to to-go and delivery-only on their own.
Abbott also granted an exception to counties with few COVID-19 cases among residents, provided that the county “has filed with DSHS, and is in compliance with, the requisite attestation form promulgated by DSHS regarding minimal cases of COVID-19.” It’s not immediately clear what the criteria is for defining whether or not the number of coronavirus cases in a county are “minimal.”
At 11 a.m., shortly after Abbott’s order, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo hosted a press conference to announce that the county COVID-19 Threat Level System is being raised to Level 1 — a “red alert” due to “a severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County.” Along with that comes a new stay-at-home recommendation. It is not an enforceable order unless Abbott authorizes Harris County to issue citations, as state-level authority supersedes county-level in this situation. “I’ve been urging him to let us make an enforceable stay-home order or order it himself,” said Hidalgo. “Obviously, that’s not where we are. I am here taking this step [of making a stay-at-home recommendation] because I have been firm that this is what we need. I am not seeing any evidence that anything short of that will do the trick.”
This is a developing news story with more updates to come.
Updated 6/26/20, 11:07 a.m.: added information regarding alcoholic beverage rules for to-go and delivery.
Updated 6/26/20, 12:21 p.m.: added information on new Harris County recommendations and raised COVID threat meter level.