• October 26, 2020

TEXAS VIEW: Abbott makes right move in latest phase of reopening - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: Abbott makes right move in latest phase of reopening

THE POINT: County officials have a better handle on their specific virus numbers.

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Posted: Thursday, October 15, 2020 2:30 am

After an agonizing and financially devastating stretch of more than three months, Texas bars and alcohol-related businesses may once again open – per an announcement last week from Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor’s order was effective Wednesday and not without its caveats. Such businesses can open only with the blessing of their respective county’s government and if they follow protocols meant to slow the spread of the virus. Just as quickly, officials in Dallas County and Harris County said their bars would remain closed for the time being because of a continuing high number of COVID-19 cases, according to the Texas Tribune.

Along those lines, Abbott said the order does not include regions where coronavirus patients take up at least 15% of hospital capacity; Amarillo is one of five hospital regions across the state affected.

It will mark the first time since late June for bars to open. That’s when Abbott once again ordered them shuttered in the face of rapidly accelerating coronavirus numbers across the state. In many instances, virus outbreaks were traced back to bars where public health protocols were relaxed or ignored after they reopened days before the Memorial Day holiday. The decision sparked protests and lawsuits on behalf of alcohol-related operations suddenly forced to shut down.

For a second time now since the pandemic took hold in March, bars will be reopened for in-person service. Restrictions include they be limited to 50% capacity and that customers must be seated while eating or drinking. This most recent order includes no outdoors capacity limits on alcohol-related businesses.

“It is time to open up more, provided that safe protocols continue to be followed,” Abbott said in a Facebook video. “If everyone continues the safe practices, Texas will be able to contain COVID and we will be able to reopen 100%.”

These operations will need to adhere to the guidelines this time around to avoid a repeat. As we have written before, maintaining social distance and not gathering in large groups are difficult to practice in bars. Last time the bars were closed, blame was cast on a small percentage of owner-operators disregarding guidelines, triggering the order that closed bars.

That means enforcing social distancing and strict observance of capacity restrictions. Along those lines, the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance devised guidelines in late August that included similar measures as well as other steps such as temperature checks at the door and mandatory facemasks for servers. On a similar note, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it will work with county governments on protocols to guide officials and businesses.

According to the Tribune’s story, Abbott reiterated how the state’s seven-day average for the positivity rate, the number of new virus cases and hospitalizations and fatalities have remained steady since the most recent phase of the state’s reopening.

While Abbott has been criticized in some corners for leaving this decision in the hands of county government, it makes sense. Local officials have a better handle on their specific virus numbers, and a one-size-fits-all approach simply would not work. Local businesses have been severely damaged, and people have lost their livelihood. The time is right for the next slow, measured step in reopening the economy.

Alcohol-related businesses have been asking for relief for months. Now, when they reopen, it is up to them to do all they can to balance public health with their business interests.

Odessa, TX

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