Bars will probably be the last business allowed to reopen in Texas. 

It’s no surprise. Texas has a complicated relationship with bar owners and liquor stores (though drinking beer at a Dallas Cowboys watch party is generally expected). 

Abbott announced at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that his Strike Force just doesn’t feel people can be safe in the murky shadows of their dive bar, enjoying whiskey often watered down to protect other patrons and the bottom line. 

“We know the customers like it, and [the bar owners] desperately need to open up and have some level of income,” Abbot said. “…The very nature (of a bar) brings people close together in a close space and promotes the transmission of infectious diseases.”

Abbott claimed they are still working on ways to establish safe social distancing at bars. 

They figured out a way to do so with barber shops, hair salons, and nail salons. Abbott said they could open Friday if they follow certain restrictions, including one customer per stylist, customers waiting six feet apart from others (or preferably outside or in their cars), and salon stations operating at least six feet apart. Abbott recommends they open by appointment only and asks both hair stylists and customers to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Tanning salons are also allowed to open Friday under the same restrictions. Swimming pools may also open with certain limitations that include operation level and occupancy. He said more details about restrictions are available online on the Open Texas webpage.  

“Just like I said last week, this allows these types of businesses to open up and doesn’t require them to do so,” Abbott said. “Some might think they have too much to do or they may think that they are afraid to open up. No one is required to open and every owner needs to use their best judgment.” 

Abbott decided to allow them to open, in part, because salon owners had submitted information about ways that they could open and operate safely while preventing the spread of COVID-19. He recommends that bar owners do the same thing and contact his office or possibly members of his Strike Force with recommendations on how they can open safely during the coronavirus outbreak. 

It’s what Abbott claimed they’ve been doing with gym owners. They’ve been working with them on a daily basis, he said, to figure out what strategies will work so they can reopen and get the community back in shape. They also discussed sanitation. For example, all equipment must be disinfected before and after each use. (This requirement includes yoga mats and other gym equipment you may bring from home.)

With those restrictions in mind, Abbott said that gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to open May 18 at 25 percent capacity. If they are practicing exercise routines outside, then they must implement safe social distancing strategies. He also recommends customers wear full gloves and not the cool ones that show off your fingers. 

But you have to shower at home. Gym locker rooms and showers must remain closed at this time.

Abbott said wedding venues may immediately open, but weddings held indoors — except for at a church, congregation, or house of worship — must limit occupancy to 25 percent. Wedding reception services may also resume, but facilities must limit it to 25 percent of occupancy. Wedding receptions held outside are not restricted.

Nonessential manufacturers are also allowed to open May 18 at 25 percent capacity and with a staggered workforce. Social distancing must be maintained and plexiglass shields must be put in place if work stations are closer than six feet apart. 

The U.S. food supply is an area of major concern for lawmakers with the recent news of COVID-19 running rampant at meat packing facilities. Abbott mentioned several facilities in the Moore County area of the Panhandle. “People in that region are affected by a larger percentage spread in COVID than what we’re seeing in the rest of Texas,” he said. 

Abbott said his new Surge Response Teams will help combat COVID-19 flare ups by providing all the resources necessary to combat the virus.

The Surge team is made up of representatives from the Texas Military Department, DSHS, and the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force, and has the capability to locate and respond to COVID-19 flare up areas whether they’re occurring in a specific zip code, at an office space or a school setting or at a meat packing facility. Some of this response includes mobile testing sites and an increased distribution of PPE equipment. 

So far state officials have distributed 53 million masks and 2.4 million face shields to first responders, hospitals and personal physicians. More than 11,000 mobile testing sites have been set up in 158 counties. More than 400,000 tests have been given in Texas, and more than 33,000 Texans have tested positive for COVID-19, about 15,000 cases are still active. 

Abbott made several other points that you can watch below. Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department State Health Services, summed up the current COVID-19 situation facing Texans and issued a warning:

“The fight against COVID-19 has been compared to warfare,” Hellerstedt said. “…But keep in mind that we have only kept the enemy at bay. It is due to the things that we’ve done so far that we have been able to keep it at bay. Don’t forget for a minute that at the beginning COVID-19 had the potential to really overwhelm us in a way and make it so we didn’t have the capacity to take care of the people who got sick with COVID-19. Through the things that you have done in Texas, and the care that you have shown one another, the social distancing, the sacrifices that you’ve made, we have managed to keep COVID-19 at bay. 

“But the war is not over. In fact, the battle is still going on. And so the things that we are doing to go forward and open up must always be balanced with the things that we’ve been talking about to continue to keep ourselves safe.”  

Hellerstedt highlighted three important steps for Texans to continue following “to keep the enemy at bay”: staying at a safe social distance as much as we can, working from home if we can, and not engaging in activities that are not really necessary. 

And, of course, follow Abbott’s Open Texas plan guidelines. 

For more information, visit the report <here>.

Christian McPhate

Christian has been working as a freelance journalist in North Texas for more than a decade. His stories have appeared in the Dallas Observer, the Houston Press, and Rolling Stone magazine. He covers a...