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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott closes bars, dials back restaurants to half-capacity, shuts river rafting

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 6/26/2020 By Robert T. Garrett, The Dallas Morning News
Greg Abbott wearing a suit and tie: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday, June 22, 2020. Abbott on Friday closed bars, ordered restaurants to return to half capacity, and took other measures against the state's rise in coronavirus infections. © RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/Austin American-Statesman/TNS Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday, June 22, 2020. Abbott on Friday closed bars, ordered restaurants to return to half capacity, and took other measures against the state's rise in coronavirus infections.

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday took more countermeasures to stem a tide of coronavirus infections, as he closed bars, ordered restaurants to return to 50% capacity, shut river-rafting outfits and gave local officials more control over large gatherings ahead of the Fourth of July holiday.

Abbott called the moves “targeted measures,” but stressed the state must move forcefully to get the current spread of COVID-19 under control.

Abbott noted he always said that if positivity rates again exceeded 10%, he’d consider that a “red flag” that required action to limit reopening of businesses and public activities. The positivity rate, which is the percentage of coronavirus tests administered that produce a positive result, dwindled to under 5% last month.

Abbott said public health authorities have linked businesses covered by his Friday order to rising infections.

“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” he said in a written statement.

Bars must shut at noon Friday. The may remain open for delivery and takeout, including for alcoholic beverages, as long as that’s authorized by the state’s bar regulator.

Restaurants may remain open for dine-in service, but at a capacity not to exceed 50% of total listed indoor occupancy, starting Monday.

Rafting and tubing businesses must close.

Also outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments, with certain exceptions, Abbott’s release said.

The outdoor crowd maximum doesn’t apply to religious services, youth camps, sporting events and amusement parks, according to Abbott’s new executive order.

Otherwise, though, “the gathering is prohibited unless the mayor of the city in which the gathering is held, or the county judge — in the case of a gathering in an unincorporated area — approves of the gathering, and such approval can be made subject to certain conditions or restrictions not inconsistent with this executive order,” it reads.

Gallery by photo services

In his release, Abbott voiced hope his rollback is temporary.

“The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health,” he said. “We want this to be as limited in duration as possible.”

Hospitals in Houston, Dallas and other urban areas are reporting a surge in admissions of COVID-19 patients.

On Thursday, there were 4,738 coronavirus patients in Texas hospitals — the 14th straight day of record hospitalizations. There were 5,996 new cases, another record, with 47 deaths — the highest total since May 20.

In recent days, Abbott moved from telling Texans they must learn to coexist with the virus to saying it’s time to stay home again whenever possible.

Last week, the Republican governor ordered a crackdown on bars not forcing patrons to observe social distancing and the state’s protocols for reopening such establishments. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has suspended 17 bars’ licenses after increased spot checks as part of “Operation Safe Open.”

More enforcement operations will occur this weekend, commission spokesman Chris Porter said Friday.

On Thursday, Abbott announced he would pause any further reopenings in his phased plan for getting Texans back to work. The state is in Phase 3, which let restaurants to increase to 75% capacity; and most businesses, to 50% capacity.

He also ordered hospitals in Dallas, Harris, Travis and Bexar counties to suspend, effective 11:59 p.m. Friday, any elective surgeries to conserve hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

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