Don’t break out the Champagne just yet: Bars can open again, but not in Dallas County.
Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Texas bars can operate at a 50% capacity starting Oct. 14, provided that local officials allow it. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins was quick to say that Dallas is going to stay dry for the time being.
Regarding opening bars in Dallas County: I will not file to open them at this time. Below is the current guidance from the Public Health Committee and ?@DCHHS?. We are in orange but our numbers are increasing (BadI) I will listen to everyone but will follow the science. pic.twitter.com/wvak33TnZw— Clay Jenkins (@JudgeClayJ) October 7, 2020
“Regarding opening bars in Dallas County: I will not file to open them at this time,” Jenkins said in a tweet. “Below is the current guidance from the Public Health Committee and @DCHHS. We are in the orange but our numbers are increasing (BadI) [sic] I will listen to everyone but will follow the science.”
Public health officials have warned that clubs are conducive to widespread virus transmissions, in part because alcohol lowers people’s inhibitions regarding coronavirus safety guidelines.
The governor has fielded flak from club owners since June following his mandate that shuttered the state’s stand-alone bars to slow the spread of COVID-19. Now, in a sharp political move, Abbott has made it local leadership’s problem.
Abbott was already under fire for his decision to limit the number of drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots to one per county, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. Wednesday’s announcement was strategically made to avoid taking on more criticism, Jillson said.
“This is an attempt by [Abbott] to be seen as doing something, but to allow the counties to make the judgement as to their own circumstances,” Jillson said.
Jenkins was quick to attack the governor after he hinted at reopening the bars in a Monday tweet. The Dallas County Public Health Committee believed the move to be too risky for North Texas, where hospitalizations are on the rise, Jenkins said.
But Abbott delivered a brighter forecast for Texas at large on Wednesday, saying that the state’s case rates and hospitalizations have been trending in the right direction. Since residents have done well at containing spread, it’s time to loosen certain restrictions, he said.
Now, all businesses operating at 50% capacity can expand to 75%, Abbott said, including amusement parks, bowling alleys, movie theaters, water parks and zoos. In addition, bars and river tubing establishments will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity, provided stringent safety protocols are followed.
Should county officials choose to opt in, Abbott said they will be tasked with enforcing such regulations.
Jillson said that some Dallas bar owners could be upset by Jenkins’ decision, but that most residents will understand.
“He will suffer in the sense that there will be some people, the Shelley Luthers of the world, who will complain,” Jillson said, referring to the salon owner who defied the governor's order to close this spring. “But I think that the population in general understands quite clearly that we’re still in the middle of this thing.”
Wednesday, Dallas County Health and Human Services reported 339 new positive cases and additional two deaths. Compared to last week, this week’s daily average has increased by 32 cases per day.
Chris Polone, owner of Fort Worth’s The Rail Club Live, said that although he’s happy for the state’s bar owners, he is still upset with the governor.
Polone has long criticized Abbott's bar mandate, which he views as an infringement on his constitutional rights. Polone has staged multiple protests in defiance of Abbott’s executive order and since had his liquor license suspended by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
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Countless bars have been forced to permanently close because of Abbott’s order, Polone said, including some that have been in business for decades. Polone said he defied Abbott’s mandate to avoid following suit; with $24 in his bar’s bank account, he reopened The Rail Club for good in August.
Polone said he plans to take the issue to the justice system.
“We’re not going to forgive, and we’re not going to forget,” Polone said. “Our fight is just beginning; now we get to go to court.”
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley has not yet decided whether he will allow Fort Worth's bars to reopen, according to NBC-DFW.