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Travis County judge says bars must remain closed after governor granted authority to reopen
(Laura Figi/Austonia)

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe will not allow area bars to reopen, citing a recent increase in COVID-related hospitalizations in the area.

"I cannot in good conscience allow bars to reopen at 50% capacity at this time," Biscoe said in a statement issued on Wednesday. "The risk to our public health is too great, especially now that students of all ages have returned to the classroom."


Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would allow Texas bars to reopen at limited capacity, starting Wednesday, in counties that chose to opt in and where COVID patients account for no more than 15% of hospitalizations.

Biscoe referred to a memo sent by Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott on Tuesday regarding bar reopenings. In it, Escott recommended that bars remain closed for now and suggested a reevaluation of the local risk level in two weeks.

"While Travis County has been oscillating in terms of hospitalizations over the past month, the trend over the past 7-10 days creates a more concerning picture for the next month," Escott wrote in the memo.

Additionally, Texas continues to lead the country in the number of new COVID cases reported in the last week, according to a data analysis by the New York Times.

Texas Bar and Nightlife Alliance President Michael Klein issued a critical statement in response to the governor's announcement, saying he had "passed the buck" to county judges.

"(T)his is a death sentence for so many of our members under the jurisdiction of county judges who still believe that we should be locked down like we were in March and April, despite all the progress we've made coexisting with this virus," Klein said.

Other Texas county judges, however, have taken the governor up on his offer. Williamson, Hays, Burnet, Blanco, Bastrop and Caldwell counties will allow bars to reopen.

Abbott initially closed bars in March before reopening them in May. But when COVID cases surged statewide in late June, he closed them again.

Last month, Abbott announced restaurants and other businesses could increase their capacity to 75% but that bars would have to remain closed because they were "nationally recognized as COVID-spreading locations."

Some bars, however, have reopened under new Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission guidance that allows them to reclassify as restaurants if a majority of their sales come from food rather than alcohol.

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