Bars across Texas closed at noon last Friday per an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott, who rolled back his reopening of businesses as the Houston area and rest of the state see a surge in cases and hospitalizations related to COVID-19.
The rise in cases has also elicited a response at the local level. Fort Bend County Judge KP George issued a mask-wearing mandate for businesses that went into effect last Thursday, June 25.
According to the local order, which followed the lead of some of Texas’ largest counties, all commercial retail businesses within Fort Bend must require all employees, customers and other visitors to wear face coverings when inside the business. Each store is required to post clear signage about the mask requirement at its entrance.
“We may be tired of COVID-19, but COVID-19 is not tired of us,” George said. “It is still here.”
In his statewide order released last Friday morning, Abbott also required restaurants to reduce their dine-in seating capacities to no more than 50 percent of their listed indoor building occupancies, beginning Monday. Restaurants previously could operate at 75 percent capacity.
Bars and similar businesses that receive more than 51 of their gross receipts from alcohol sales could previously operate at 50 percent capacity. They can remain open but are limited to delivery and to-go services under protocols outlined by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Additionally, Abbott ordered the closure of all rafting and tubing businesses and prohibited outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people, unless they are approved by local governments.
Abbott, who last Thursday said he was pausing any further phases of his reopening plan that started in May, said the reason for scaling back a day later was partly because the statewide positivity rate had exceeded 10 percent. That means at least 10 percent of the people tested for COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by the new coronavirus, are receiving positive results.
“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10 percent, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement. “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars. The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and enhance public health. We want this to be as limited in duration as possible. However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part. Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay 6 feet apart from others in public, and stay home if they can. I know that our collective action can lead to a reduction in the spread of COVID-19 because we have done it before, and we will do it again.”
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 148,723 Texans had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday, with the disease causing at least 2,393 deaths in the state and an estimated 79,974 patients having recovered.
As of Tuesday, Fort Bend County officials had reported 3,722 cases of COVID-19 among residents. The disease has caused at least 53 deaths in the county, while 1,298 patients have recovered.
“(The mask order) is not to punish our citizens or businesses,” George said. “We are trying to put an order in place so that we all can be safe.”