AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: KVUE has reached out to all Central Texas county judges on their decision. This story will be updated on what they decide.
Some local bars are reopening their doors again.
On Oct. 7, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that all Texas bars can reopen at 50% capacity after hinting about it on social media. But, there's a catch. The bars can only reopen on Oct. 14 if the county judge of each county opts in with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).
The bars in counties that do allow them to reopen must follow strict guidelines. Bars must make sure all customers are seated while eating or drinking and groups are spaced at least 6 feet apart. Tables of more than six people are not allowed, according to guidelines added to the Strike Force to Open Texas page.
In addition, all customers and employees must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when social distancing is not possible.
Here's a list of what the plans are for Central Texas counties:
Judge Paul Pape is authorizing bars in the county to reopen after consulting with mayors and local health authorities.
The Blanco County judge is authorizing bars in the county to reopen.
Burnet County Judge James Oakley said the county will opt in.
In a letter on Friday, Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden said the county will opt in and allow bars to operate at 50% capacity. Judge Haden said the COVID-19 safety protocols will be enforced through spot-checks by law enforcement and county officials.
The Fayette County judge is authorizing bars in the county to reopen.
Hays County has elected to allow the reopening of bars, but officials are urging caution.
“When I saw the new order, I immediately pulled together our team of local Hays County elected officials, as well as our health department and our emergency management team, Alex Villalobos, Mike Jones and Tammy Crumley, to hear their concerns, issues and questions then discuss options,” County Judge Ruben Becerra said. “The majority of mayors and other elected officials were supportive but cautious. They want to be able to tell business owners they can get back to work and earning a living but recognize that if we do, the process must be deliberate and thoughtful. This is a public safety issue and our goal is to always protect public safety.”
Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham said the county will opt in.
Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said Oct. 14 that he would not allow bars within Austin and Travis County to reopen at 50% capacity.
“Based on the memo from Dr. Mark Escott, COVID-19 continues to be a threat to Travis County," Biscoe said in a statement. "In the past ten days, Travis County has seen an increase in hospitalized individuals, ICU bed utilization, and ventilator use. As such, I cannot in good conscience allow bars to reopen at 50% of capacity at this time. The risk to our public health is too great, especially now that students of all ages have returned to the classroom.
"As we move forward, I will continue to work with Dr. Escott to reevaluate data collected and in fourteen days will determine if Travis County is in a position to safely reopen bars. Until then, I encourage everyone to continue practicing safety measures that will help us reduce the transmission of COVID-19.”
On Oct. 27, Biscoe reiterated that Travis County bars must continue to remain closed, saying:
"As promised, Dr. Mark Escott and I have spent the past two weeks evaluating the COVID-19 data for Travis County. Unfortunately, we have not seen significant improvement in our hospital bed utilization or in the utilization of ICU beds. Furthermore, with school districts preparing to allow for additional in-person learning and the upcoming weekend celebrations, we must be mindful of the increased public interaction that will take place as a result. For these reasons, it is my decision not to open bars."
Biscoe said he will revisit this decision again in another two weeks.
On Nov. 10, Biscoe said Travis County will not reopen bars during the remainder of his tenure, which will end on Nov. 17.
Biscoe said in a statement: "Based on the most recent memo from Dr. Mark Escott, cases of COVID-19 are steadily increasing throughout our community. Since Oct. 4, the moving average of new hospital admissions has doubled. Because of this increased risk, I will not be authorizing bars to reopen during the remainder of my tenure as Interim Travis County Judge, which will end on Nov. 17, 2020. Earlier this year, Travis County residents were successful in flattening the curve by practicing the proven safety measures recommended to us by our health experts. I am confident this community can repeat its success and move us to a place where we can safely reopen our bars."
Judge Bill Gravell said he plans to be the first county judge in Texas to opt in.
"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. "Our county residents have shown that they can be smart and protect themselves and others, so I will be choosing for Williamson County to opt in on Oct. 14. This is another step forward for us as a community, and we can do this safely and wisely."
This story will be updated with more counties when KVUE receives their decisions.
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