HOUSTON – Houston-area county judges weighed in Wednesday on their plans for reopening bars following Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s new order. Abbott announced bars and similar establishments are allowed to reopen at 50% capacity in counties with low COVID-19 hospitalizations starting Oct. 14.
The new executive order gives the authority to reopen bars to the county judges.
Here is how county judges in the Houston area reacted to the announcement:
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo stated that maskless gatherings should not be happening right now following the governor’s announcement of reopening bars.
Hidalgo said the county is still at level “red,” meaning indoor, maskless gathering should not be taking place, including bars. She said Harris County is moving in the right direction in efforts to contain the virus, but for residents to not let their guard down.
Hidalgo’s office tweeted: “Judge Hidalgo reminds the community that, for the sake of long-term success, we cannot responsibly have further reopenings until the virus is under control.”
NEW: Judge Hidalgo reminds the community that, for the sake of long-term success, we cannot responsibly have further reopenings until the virus is under control.— Office of Judge Lina Hidalgo (@HarrisCoJudge) October 7, 2020
Hidalgo released the following statement:
"Months ago, we established the Harris County Threat Level System - critical public health benchmarks to determine the county’s level of reopening and make way for sustainable, long-term reopenings. We have not been able to enforce the Threat Level System, which has led to a much slower decrease in the virus incidence.
"The data guiding county decision-making tells us we are doing much better than we were a few months ago, but we are still at the highest level: red. Indoor, maskless gatherings should not be taking place right now, and this applies to bars, as well.
"We are moving in the right direction because of the community coming together and helping contain this virus. We must not let down our guard or we will be right back where we started.
“The sooner we can get this virus under control means the sooner we can return to some sense of normalcy and the stronger our local economy will be. We would have gotten there long ago if Harris County had been able to take the aggressive measures we needed to take in April and again in June.”
Fort Bend County
Fort Bend County Judge K.P. George said the county is reviewing the order and evaluating the next steps.
“The top priority for Fort Bend County is a fast economic recovery without compromising the safety and wellbeing of our residents," George said in a statement. "I know our residents make smart decisions, and I rely on their valuable input in the decision making process. I have always said my decisions will be based on the science, data, expert opinions, and community input. While consulting with the respective medical authorities and reviewing the data, I am issuing a survey for bar owners to fill out, so I can ensure your voices are heard during this major process.”
George asked bar owners to provide their feedback via survey found here.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said his staff is reviewing the governor’s executive order, but he is expected to side with bar owners.
“I want to let small business owners know that I’ll be reopening bars immediately,” Henry wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
Henry indicated on Thursday that Galveston County law enforcement would not intervene if bars decided to open even earlier.
Henry said that not only bar and nightclub owners were suffering during the closure period but so were service organizations.
“We’ve got ‘VFWs’ and ‘American Legions’ that can’t give the services to the veterans that have come to depend upon them,” Henry said during an interview with KPRC2.
He also noted that while bars were forced to remain closed for months, property taxes will be due in full.
“The real pain is if they don’t pay their property taxes the state is required to foreclose on them next year,” Henry said.
My staff is reviewing Gov. Abbott's Exec Order GA-32 issued today which gives County Judge's the authority to finally reopen bars within their county. Expect an official announcement tomorrow, but I want to let small business owners know that I'll be reopening bars immediately.— Judge Mark Henry (@JudgeMarkHenry) October 8, 2020
Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough said “I wholeheartedly believe all business should be open 100% not 75% or 50%. However, per the governor’s latest executive order, I hereby opt-in, and our TABC licensed businesses in Montgomery County may resume operations per the governor’s order at 50% on October 14.”
Liberty County will allow bars and nightclubs to re-open next week.
“Per the Governor’s latest update to Executive Order GA-32. I hereby “opt-in” and will allow our TABC licensed establishments in Liberty County to resume operations per the Governor’s order with all recommendations of this order to be followed including the minimum standard health,” Jay H. Knight, Liberty County Judge, said.
Here is the full message from Gov. Abbott regarding the reopening of bars and other establishments:
WATCH: Opening bars and similar establishments up to 50% capacity in regions with low #COVID19 hospitalizations.— Gov. Greg Abbott (@GovAbbott) October 7, 2020
Beginning October 14th, County Judges can opt their county into opening bars provided they assist in enforcing health protocols.#TexasBiz @TexasABC pic.twitter.com/HokCosVsEX
Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta said the county meets the governor’s criteria to opt-in opening bars at 50% capacity on Oct. 14.
The Officer of Brazoria County Judge released the following statement:
"After consultation with the District Attorney, Sheriff, Health Department, and Public Health Authority, it has been determined by Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta that the County meets the criteria of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order (GA-32) for opting in for bars to open at 50% capacity on October 14.
“The guidelines and protocols listed in the Governor’s Order (GA-32) are adequate for public safety.”