Republican Gov. Greg Abbott shut down bars in Texas again Friday and scaled back restaurant dining, the most dramatic reversals yet as confirmed coronavirus cases surge to record levels after the state embarked on one of America’s fastest reopenings.
The abrupt closures began just days after Abbott described shutting down business as a last resort, and reflect how urgently Texas is scrambling to contain what is now one of the nation’s biggest hotspots. In the last four days alone, Texas has reported more than 23,000 confirmed new cases, and Friday surpassed 5,000 hospitalizations for the first time — a threefold increase from a month ago.
“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. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health.”
In Marshall, American Legion Post 267 Commander Mark Haines, is worried and frustrated with the recent closures.
“We have a wonderful finance person who stretches every penny but we are still concerned,” Haines said.
The American Legion reopened May 22, the first day they allowed to after the phase was instituted by Abbott.
“We are all hurting,” Haines said, regarding the bars. For the Legion, offering drinks is not just a way to have a good time, but also for them to help veterans. With the pandemic and the shutdown, Haines has dipped into his personal account to help veterans out.
“We’ve spent a lot of time and effort making sure tables are spaced out and our servers are being extra cautious with drinks and cleanliness,” he said.
For Legends Social Club in Marshall, they will be staying open, as far as the restaurant and event venue is concerned on Friday and Saturday nights staying under the 50 percent mark.
Local band, the Trevor Clark Band, will perform tonight at the event venue.
Tables and the outdoor seating is spaced out to promote social distancing.
Abbott also ordered rafting and tubing outfitters on Texas’ popular rivers to close, and required outdoor gatherings of 100 people or more to first seek approval from local governments.
Both the city of Marshall and Harrison County have implemented the same guidelines.
“Earlier today, Governor Abbott tightened some restrictions in response to the increasing number of cases statewide. One primary change that affects us locally is that outdoor gatherings above 100 persons must adhere to local regulations,” Harrison County Judge Chad Sims said.
The Texas GOP is also pressing ahead with a July convention in Houston and won’t require face coverings even though Abbott, the party leader, says everyone in Texas should wear one. And on Monday, early in-person voting begins in Texas for primary runoffs that Abbott postponed in March, saying at the time that holding the election as scheduled would “threaten the health and safety of many Texans.”
At that time, Texas had but a few dozen reported cases. On Thursday, the number of hospitalizations soared past 4,700, a doubling in under two weeks.
Abbott began lifting lockdown orders in May, and accelerated his own timelines on some openings amid protests from conservatives.
Abbott on Friday expressed regret for the first known time about the reopening process he spearheaded during the pandemic, saying he should not have allowed bars to open as quickly.
“If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting,” he said during an evening interview with KVIA in El Paso.
Abbott added that the “bar setting, in reality, just doesn’t work with a pandemic,” noting people “go to bars to get close and to drink and to socialize, and that’s the kind of thing that stokes the spread of the coronavirus.”
Texas reached a record high positive tests of 5,996 on Thursday. The state’s rolling infection rate was at nearly 12%, a level not seen since the state was in a broad lockdown. In May, Abbott set anything higher than 10% as a “red flag” in his reopening plan, which he says was backed by White House.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the COVID-19 virus without feeling sick.
Under the newest rollbacks, restaurant dining rooms must scale back to half capacity starting Monday.
The Texas Restaurant Association supported the rollback, but also pointed out that social distancing made it hard for most restaurants to exceed 50% capacity anyway.
The group also continued to press Abbott for a statewide mask policy. “It’s to ensure our restaurants aren’t law enforcement,” said Emily Williams Knight, president and CEO of the organization.