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Travis County Bars Must Remain Closed, According to the Judge

“The patterns across Texas create a very concerning picture,” writes the county’s Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott

The liquor shelves at downtown bar the Library Bar
The liquor shelves at downtown bar the Library Bar
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe still isn’t allowing bars to reopen, based on the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and ICU bed and ventilator usages in Travis/Austin area. This decision is a continuation of the initial one made with Interim Health Authority-Travis County Dr. Mark Escott on October 14. The two will revisit this decision in two weeks again.

Judge Biscoe further explains the decision in a statement shared with Eater:

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 [Ed. note: Halloween], 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.

In a separate memo clarifying his conclusion, Dr. Escott noted that, based on current COVID-19 numbers and projections, it appears as though Travis County will elevate into stage four of its risk-based guidelines by next week. He also cited the current COVID-19 crisis in El Paso (where the surge is so high that the county issued a curfew this week and hospitalizations have increased by 300 percent, as reported by Texas Tribune) as an indicator of what is happening. “The patterns across Texas create a very concerning picture for November and likely December for our state,” he writes.

Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order allowing bars to reopen, but only under the permission of county judges. Biscoe was one of the few judges that declined, but noted at the time that he and Dr. Escott re-examine updated numbers to see if it’s possible to reopen bars in late October.

Travis County is currently one of the few Texas counties that hasn’t allowed bars to reopen in their regions, along with Harris and Dallas counties. However, many of the areas surrounding Austin have allowed bars to reopen already.

It also should be noted that this decision applies to businesses that make more than 51 percent of their sales from alcohol. However, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission allowed these businesses to reapply for food permitting based on new sales calculations and/or ramping up food sales by adding food trucks, etc., which would let them reopen for on-site services.

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