Texas Bars Back in Business in Most Metros
Where Virus is Surging Again in Danger Zone
October 15, 2020
Governor Greg Abbott celebrated his only notable victory during the coronavirus crisis when he declared this spring that the state had corralled the state's first major outbreak with the deployment of an emergency testing crew to the Texas Panhandle.
Abbott followed that up a week later when he accelerated the Texas reopening during the first week in June despite a multitude of warning signs that the virus was in the infant stages of a second surge that would turn the Lone Star State into the nation's COVID-19 epicenter and prompt the imposition of a mask order at the start of July.
After having the Texas economic revival in a holding pattern throughout the summer, the Republican governor is gambling now that history won't be repeating itself with the latest emergency order that allowed drinking establishments to get back in business in Texas on Wednesday after being shuttered for almost four months.
Abbott gave 6,000 Texas bars the green light to open back up at 50 percent capacity indoors amid his determination that Texans have learned how to keep the covid spread under control by wearing masks in public, social distancing, avoiding large public gatherings and other common sense protocols.
Abbott is letting the bars hit the reset button if county judges approve after being shut down since June 26. But the leash will be tight in the early going with the clubs having to stop selling booze at 11 p.m. and mask requirements for employees and customers with the exception of those who are seated at the bar.
Bar owners who fail to enforce the emergency standards will be asking for trouble several months after an undercover operation by the state led to a wave of license suspensions by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in May and June before Abbott closed them again.
But the governor will be quietly holding his breath with a resurgence of the virus under way this month in the city that he promised would be the model for the state in the fight against the coronavirus in a state where all of the major population centers in West Texas are sizzling with it again.
The Amarillo area that straddles Potter and Randall counties has been the hottest spot in Texas in the first two weeks of October. But Lubbock County has been in the same league on red alert this month after leading the state's major metropolitan areas in new infections in August and September with Texas Tech University as the central breeding ground.
The list of the top 10 Texas metros in the weekly new infections tally includes the West Texas destinations of Wichita, Taylor, Tom Green and Midland counties. But the most alarming spikes this week have been in Randall County in the southern half of Amarillo and far to the west in El Paso where the virus has been on a record-crushing tear in the past week. El Paso County logged 885 new cases on Tuesday - an increase of 58 percent from the previous high mark there three days earlier. The virus had smashed the daily record in Wichita County this past weekend as well before the count of new positive tests soared 84 percent to a new high of 188 cases in a single day.
Lubbock has an excuse with a major university and football team in a power conference. The virus has been surging at code red in other major college towns like Waco and College Station where Baylor University and Texas A&M are based. McLennan and Brazos counties are the only two among the 10 metros with the highest new case count that are not on the west side of the state.
While the bars in El Paso, Potter and Wichita don't have the go sign from the state yet to open, their counterparts can start serving drinks again in all of the other West Texas counties and major college towns with the highest increases in virus rates in the closing weeks before the November 3 election.