Local residents’ favorite watering holes are allowed to dust off their barstools and invite customers back inside.
Fort Bend County Judge KP Judge announced Tuesday that the county’s bars, brewpubs and wineries would be allowed to reopen for on-site consumption on Wednesday, at no more than 50 percent of their building occupancies, per an executive order issued Oct. 7 by Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott. The governor is permitting those alcohol-oriented businesses to welcome back customers in counties with low COVID-19 hospitalization rates, but only if county judges allow the reopenings within their jurisdictions.
George released a statement Saturday saying he was considering whether to opt in to Abbott’s plan and in the process of consulting with local medical authorities and bar owners.
“We already know that the tools in our toolbox like masking up, practicing physical distancing and avoiding mass gatherings are direct ways to combat COVID-19,” George said through a spokesperson. “Now, as Fort Bend County opens up bars and similar establishments – I encourage everyone to continue to practice safe and smart guidelines.”
Abbott’s order applies to counties with COVID-19 hospitalization rates at 15 percent or less for a period of at least seven consecutive days. As of Monday, 5.1 percent of all hospital patients in Fort Bend County were COVID-19 patients, according to the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council.
There have been a total of 16,912 cases of COVID-19 in Fort Bend, with the disease having caused at least 208 deaths among residents and 15,822 patients having recovered. The daily number of reported cases in the county has steadily declined since reaching a peak Aug. 14, with 32 new cases having been reported on Sunday.
After bars across the state were forced to close in March, when the pandemic reached Texas, Abbott allowed them to reopen May 22. He ordered them closed again June 26 after a statewide spike in cases, which he attributed in part to his reopening of bars.
Abbott’s Oct. 7 order also allows most businesses other than bars to increase their on-premise capacity to 75 percent of their building occupancies on Wednesday.
“Even as more businesses have opened and students return to school, Texans have shown we can contain the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement on the governor’s website. “… Opening bars does not mean that COVID-19 is no longer a threat, and most Texans are still susceptible to the virus. As bars and similar businesses begin to open, we all must remain vigilant and show personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
Bars, brewpubs and wineries already were allowed to be open for to-go sales. Many previously reopened for on-site consumption by taking advantage of relaxed permitting requirements by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), which in August made it easier for those businesses to obtain food and beverage permits and reclassify themselves as restaurants by offering food services along with alcohol.
A spokesperson for George said most restaurants and other businesses in the county have been “behaving very responsibly.” The spokesperson also said community members are encouraged to report alcohol-oriented businesses to the TABC if they are violating the occupancy limit or on-site safety protocols such as keeping dance floors closed, allowing customers to remove their masks and drink only while seated in most cases and limiting tables to six people or fewer.
More details about Abbott’s reopening order can be found out at https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-issues-executive-order-to-open-bars-in-qualifying-counties.
“Governor Abbott has made it clear,” George said. “If our cases and hospitalizations rise because of opening up, he will shut down our community again.”