AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that effective Wednesday, March 10, he is rescinding the statewide face mask order and allowing any type of business to reopen 100%. However, businesses are still allowed to implement capacity limits and other safety protocols if they choose.
The governor's announcement is welcome news for many bar owners in Austin, who have technically only been allowed to operate their establishments as restaurants during the pandemic.
"The tens of thousands of men and women in the bar and nightclub industry around Texas are ecstatic about this long-overdue end of the restrictions and the full reopening of the Texas economy," said Michael Klein, the president of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance (TBNA). "Everybody's just looking forward to welcoming back all the patrons back to the bars and nightclubs that are finally going to be bars and nightclubs again."
Meanwhile, local leaders are urging businesses to keep safety measures in place.
"If they want to get back to a place where we can go to bars, where we can eat in restaurants and go to see live music and not worry about COVID, we need to keep wearing our masks a little bit longer," Travis County Judge Andy Brown said.
Brown, along with Austin Mayor Steve Adler, sent a letter to Abbott, urging him to keep the mask mandate in place.
"Supported by our public health professionals, we believe it would be premature and harmful to do anything to lose widespread adoption of this preventative measure," the letter said in part.
KVUE spoke to several bar owners around Austin following Abbott's announcement on Tuesday. While some said they will open up to 100% capacity on March 10, others said they may take things slowly.
On Congress Avenue, Speakeasy owner Michael Girard said as of right now, he doesn't plan to change much of his operations.
"It's not going to be a drastic change," he said. "You know, we won't go back to the dance floor right away. We will probably leave it exactly the same, you know, and operate very similar to the way that we were."
He added that it really depends on how comfortable his customers and employees feel.
"Until we feel that, you know, there's just a comfort level ... I still have to look after my customers and I still have to look after my staff and make sure that, make sure that everything is, everything is safe and my staff can work in a safe environment. So, you know, we'll start changing but it's not going to be anything, anything drastic," Girard said, adding, "I've spent the last year trying to keep my business afloat, and I've spent the last year trying to keep my employees employed. And I've spent the last six months trying to keep bands on the stage, you know, and I think they appreciate it."
Longtime downtown Austin bar owner Bob Woody told KVUE that he's excited to open his bars back to full capacity.
"Texas is not going to tell businesses what to do anymore. What a great day," he said.
Woody said he employs hundreds of people through the bars that he owns, many of which are located on Sixth Street. He said it's important that the capacity has been set back to normal.
"When you run a business, you want to be able to run it at full blast. You want to be able to do everything you can," he said.
Woody added that when it comes to the mask mandate, he will leave that up to the customers.
"If you want to wear a mask, you're more than welcome to. Are we going to require any of it? Absolutely not," he said.
Up on Twelfth Street at The Tavern, Assistant General Manager Taco Vasquez told KVUE he had mixed feelings about the announcement initially.
"My initial thoughts are that it's a little haphazardly done, but we're going to make sure that we're focusing on what we can control and that's making sure that our customers and our staff are staying as safe as possible," he said. "We want to make sure that nobody feels that they are being forced either way. If they want to wear a mask, they’re welcome to. If they don’t want to then the governor has given them that option."
He added that while The Tavern is happy to have more people back inside, the staff is aiming to take things slow.
"So, right now we're just gonna make sure that we slowly roll out everything, make sure we keep it as controlled as possible and we're really excited to see everyone come back," Vasquez said.
Several Austin-area restaurants and stores have posted on social media saying they will continue requiring masks and implementing safety measures even after they are lifted on March 10. KVUE Cultural Reporter Brittany Flowers tweeted a thread of some businesses that have announced they won't be changing their protocols:
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