June 29, 2020 -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says his decision allowing bars to reopen during early phases of his economic recovery plan contributed to the alarming surge of coronavirus cases in the state.
"If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting,” he said in an interview with KVIA.
Abbott scaled back his economic recovery strategy on Friday, issuing an executive order shutting down bars that receive more than 51% of gross receipts from alcohol sales as of midnight Friday.
He also limited restaurants to 50% occupancy starting Monday, ordered rafting and tubing businesses closed and said outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people must be approved by local governments.
Abbott said his decision was driven by data. The coronavirus positivity rate in Texas was around 4% a month ago but has now topped 10%, which has always been a benchmark to trigger economic scale backs, he said.
“That data has driven our actions. The data also showed that people going to locations like bars were spreading the coronavirus,” he said. “People go to bars to get close and drink and socialize and that’s the kind of thing that stokes the spread of the coronavirus.”
More restrictions on businesses may be imposed “if we don’t bend the curve of COVID-19,” he said.
Texas, which has reported more than 137,000 cases and 2,300 deaths, instituted one of the nation’s more aggressive economic recovery plans after shutting down because of the coronavirus. Abbott told KVIA that the data on curbing the coronavirus was good at first.
But the number of new cases has shot up in recent weeks. The state has reporting more than 5,000 new cases a day for several days, putting a strain on medical facilities. Earlier this week Abbott ordered suspension of elective surgeries in four counties to increase the availability of ICU beds for coronavirus patients.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg appeared on Good Morning America on Saturday and said hospitals in the city are being stretched. Without directly blaming Abbott, he said the early reopening of the economy contributed to the surge in cases.
“People were encouraged to let their guard down and were seeing the results of that,” he said.
Nirenberg also bemoaned the lack of state and national leadership on face masks, saying leaders in Austin and Washington had suggested mask-wearing was somehow an imposition on a person’s civil liberties.
“The mixed messaging coming from various politicians has made it very difficult for cities like ours,” he said.
In the KVIA interview, Abbott said he had no plans to mandate face masks statewide because such an order would not be needed for rural parts of Texas that have recorded very few cases. Allowing each city to decide is the more effective approach, he said.