Travis County bars to stay closed, county judge says

Bar toast

AUSTIN ( -- While bars in neighboring counties will be able to re-open beginning Wednesday, Travis County won't be joining in for at least two weeks.

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe released a statement Wednesday morning announcing his decision. "I cannot in good conscience allow bars to reopen at 50% of capacity at this time," Biscoe said.

Biscoe said he based his decision on information from Austin Public Health and Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott.

"Based on the memo from Dr. Mark Escott, COVID-19 continues to be a threat to Travis County. In the past ten days, Travis County has seen an increase in hospitalized individuals, ICU bed utilization, and ventilator use," the statement continued. "The risk to our public health is too great, especially now that students of all ages have returned to the classroom." 

Escott's memo, citing modeling data from the University of Texas, says the area may see as high as an 87% increase in hospital admissions and a 64% increase in ICU bed usage by November 1.

As of Monday night, there were 764 active cases of COVID-19 in Travis County, with a total of 90 patients hospitalized across the five county metro area and 21 of those in intensive care.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's latest re-opening order, which goes into effect today, allows county judges to opt-in to re-opening bars as long as the area's COVID-19 hospitalization rate is below 15 percent.

Williamson, Bastrop, Caldwell, and Hays Counties have all opted in to the re-opening plan.

Bars across the state were ordered closed for a second time on June 26, after coronavirus cases across the state began to spike. Since then, many have begun to operate as restaurants with food service, but many have also remained closed.

Under new guidelines from the state, bars that are allowed to re-open must stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. nightly. Customers are required to be seated while eating or drinking, and tables of more than six people are not allowed. Social distancing, disinfection protocols, and employee face coverings are also all required.

Biscoe said he plans to revisit the decision in 14 days. "As we move forward, I will continue to work with Dr. Escott to reevaluate data collected and in fourteen days will determine if Travis County is in a position to safely reopen bars. Until then, I encourage everyone to continue practicing safety measures that will help us reduce the transmission of COVID-19," Biscoe said.