Texas bars can reopen at 50% capacity starting next Wednesday if the county judge where they are located approves, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday.
County judges can opt their county into the reopenings, but they have to enforce health protocols. For example, dance floors at bars must remain closed, and customers have to be seated while eating or drinking.
"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. "Thanks to Texans following the best health practices, our state is prepared for additional openings, including bars.”
The 50% capacity limit does not apply to outdoor areas.
Patrons at bars will have to wear masks when they aren’t seated at a table, and tables must be limited to six people or fewer.
Shortly after the announcement, a spokesperson said Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe would take the next several days to review the order and determine what authority local governments have.
"Additionally, he will continue to confer with the Austin-Travis County Health Authority to chart out the County's safest route to ensuring a healthy population and economy," the spokesperson said.
A Hays County spokesperson said officials were also reviewing the order.
In Williamson County, Judge Bill Gravell said he would opt in right away.
“It is time for all of our businesses to be open to serve our public while following the Governor’s health protocols to be safe," he said in a statement. "Our county residents have shown that they can be smart and protect themselves and others."
The Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance released a statement criticizing the governor for the approach he’s taking to open up bars. Rather than using data to determine which regions of Texas can allow bars to operate, the governor “has forced 254 other people to make this decision for him with no guideposts as to how to make that decision,” TBNA President Michael Klein said in the statement.
“TBNA is under no delusions: many of our members will eventually be allowed to operate under this new order because their county judge will lead and ‘opt in,’” Klein said. “However, this is a death sentence for so many of our members under the jurisdiction of county judges who still believe that we should be locked down like we were in March and April, despite all the progress we’ve made coexisting with this virus.”
Klein and other members of the organization filed a federal lawsuit against Abbott in June for shutting down bars.
The governor has also signed an order allowing all other businesses operating at 50% capacity to increase their occupancy levels to 75% starting next Wednesday. This includes places such as movie theaters, amusement parks, bingo halls and bowling alleys. The expansions can happen only in counties where COVID-19 hospitalizations make up less than 15% of hospital capacity.
Abbott allowed many businesses – like retailers, restaurants and gyms – to expand to 75% capacity last month.
This story has been updated.
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