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Friday, 26 June 2020 17:24

Governor Orders TX Bars to Close Again and Restaurants to Reduce Occupancy as Coronavirus Spreads

Written by Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune


Gov. Greg Abbott on June 26 took his most drastic action yet to respond to the post-reopening coronavirus surge in Texas, shutting bars back down and scaling back restaurant capacity to 50%.

He also shut down river-rafting trips, which have been blamed for a swift rise in cases in Hays County, and banned outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people unless local officials approve.


“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 in a news release. "The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health."


Bars must close at noon June 26, and the reduction in restaurant capacity takes effect June 29. Before Abbott's announcement, bars were able to operate at 50% capacity and restaurants at 75% capacity.


As for outdoor gatherings, Abbott's decision June 26 represents his second adjustment in that category this week. Abbott on June 23 gave local governments the choice to place restrictions on outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people after previously setting the threshold at more than 500 people. Now outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited unless local officials explicitly approve of them.


State officials have noted that case numbers in Texas began to increase around Memorial Day weekend, and have expressed worry about big public gatherings for Fourth of July.


Abbott's actions June 26 were his first significant moves to reverse the reopening process that he has led since late April. He said June 22 that shutting down the state again is a last resort, but the situation has been worsening quickly.


Abbott put Texas under what was effectively a stay-at-home order for most of April, shutting down all but businesses considered essential by the state. After letting that order expire at the end of April, he moved forward with a phased reopening of the state that was one of the earliest and quickest in the country. By early June, Abbott had permitted almost all business to open at at least 50% capacity.


But cases have climbed rapidly in recent weeks. On June 25, Texas saw another record number of new cases---5,996---as well as hospitalizations---4,739. The hospitalization number set a record for the 14th straight day.


During the increase, Abbott has cited Texas' large hospital capacity and the availability of respirators. But many hospitals in Texas' big cities have reported crowded intensive care units in recent days, and some cities have begun reviving plans to treat patients at convention centers and stadiums.


There has also been a rapid rise in the state's positivity rate, or the ratio of tests that come back positive. The rate, presented by the state as a seven-day average, has gone up to 11.76%---where it was at in mid-April and above the 10% threshold that Abbott has said would cause alarm for the reopening process.


Abbott specifically cited the positivity rate in explaining his actions June 26.

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