On October 7, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Executive Order No. GA-32 (“Order”), relating to the continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Order brought welcome news to bar owners and thirsty patrons across the state of Texas by permitting the conditional reopening of bars. However, before the bottles are popped and the beers are poured, here are some things to know.
Not everyone gets to fill their glass just yet. The Order prohibits areas with “high hospitalizations” from reopening their bars. An “area with high hospitalizations” means any Trauma Service Area that has had seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of total hospital capacity exceeds 15 percent, until such time as the Trauma Service Area has seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of total hospital capacity is 15 percent or less. As of today, the only high hospitalization areas are Culberson, El Paso, and Hudspeth counties.
But not so fast on the pour. Even if a county does not constitute an area of high hospitalizations, the Order gives county judges discretion as to whether to opt into the reopening or not. While many counties have chosen to reopen, most of the metropolitan counties have kept the tap shut off, including Dallas, Travis, Harris, and Bexar. A notable exception to the metropolitan bar crowd is Tarrant County, which decided to swing the bar room doors open as of October 14.
For those counties that qualify and opt to reopen, restrictions are still in the mix. Capacity is limited to 50 percent inside (with no limitation on outdoor seating) and patrons are required to consume their drinks only while seated, which means no hanging around the bar for now. There is a noticeable and welcome exception to this provision for brewers, distillers, and wineries, who are permitted to sample their wares to groups of 6 or fewer standing patrons, as long as social distancing is observed.
There is also good news for those thirsty Texans still hesitant to return to the bar room scene. The Order preserves the COVID-19 inspired permissive use of drive-thru, pickup, and delivery of alcoholic beverages.
As Texas continues to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, these restrictions may rapidly change. For now, many bar owners across the state are breathing a sigh of relief, while others are still anxiously holding their breath.