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Texas bars can reopen to 50% capacity on Oct. 14, but Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff says he is 'not opting in' as of now

As recommended by trade associations representing bars, dance floors at bars and similar establishments must remain closed, the executive order says.

SAN ANTONIO — It's official: Texas bars can reopen for the first time since June, Gov. Greg Abbott, announced Wednesday. Well, depending on each Texas county judge.

According to Gov. Abbott's executive order, effective Oct. 14, bars can reopen at 50 percent capacity inside, per the county judge's approval. In hospital regions where COVID-19 hospitalizations are less than 15 percent of hospital capacity, county judges will be able to opt their county into opening bars, provided they assist in enforcing health protocols, according to the executive order.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff responded Wednesday night at the county coronavirus update. He said he is "not opting in," but he will try to give a "fair hearing on it." He said he has talked to Metro Health, and has asked for the numbers on how many bars are still not open. Those numbers have not been reported. 

He also said he will discuss the potential health risks and standards with Metro Health's Dr. Colleen Bridger. Judge Wolff said he will be gathering that information by Oct. 14. But for right now, Bexar County will not be opting in.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he is seeking guidance from health professionals, because doing this in the past has "saved lives together that way."

As recommended by trade associations representing bars, dance floors at bars and similar establishments must remain closed, the executive order says. 

There is no capacity limit outdoors. Gov. Abbott said patrons must wear masks when they are not seated at a table, and tables must be limited to six individuals or fewer. 

The announcement comes after Abbott tweeted Monday that COVID-19 numbers "remained contained," and he would be announcing more reopenings soon. The tweet included a GIF of two beer mugs and "Cheers!"

Only bars with permits to sell food and those that reclassified as restaurants have been allowed to reopen since late August. That's when the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) changed its guidance to allow businesses to use alcohol sales projections or show that they recently had less than 51 percent alcohol sales in order to apply for a Food and Beverage Certificate. If granted, the businesses could then reopen as restaurants.

James Montes has dedicated the past 16 years of his life to Leapin Lizard Pub on East Commerce Street.

"It has been a wild ride for sure," Montes said. "(I'm) missing my customers and really wanting to do something for my staff because they really want to come back to work."

While other local bar owners have re-opened as restaurants, Montes hasn't. In fact, he has been closed since the first state shutdown way back in March.

After Wolff said the county would examine its options before making a definitive decision, the wait to reopen is only getting longer for Montes.

"I want to be fair," Wolff said. "And I want an opportunity to look at the health consequences as well."

"It just (means) we are going through a process to make sure we are opening up in a safe manner," Nirenberg added.

However, for Montes it doesn't matter what is decided. He said operating at a cap of 50% capacity is just not good enough for him to open his small space.

"As soon as they give us the green light at 75% and no social distancing, (we can reopen)," Montes said. "Otherwise it is going to be very difficult."

Representatives with the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance, including board member Greg Barrineau, says Abbott's announcement makes bars and clubs the scapegoats of the pandemic. 

"It is not right for the bars to be closed when every other business is open," Barrineau said. "He continues to raise occupancy for all of the businesses, he is allowing every business to in the State of Texas to be open except bars. It is not right." 

The executive order also increases the occupancy levels for all business establishments other than bars to 75 percent.

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