In his latest coy pandemic policy tweet, Greg Abbott Monday afternoon strongly hinted that he might soon relax restrictions on state bars due to Texans’ alleged success in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
“Texans have continued to keep COVID under control,” he wrote. “The hospitalizations, number of new positive cases, and positivity rate remain contained.”
He also bragged that Monday’s COVID-19 death count was “one of the lowest for fatalities in a long time,” without clarifying that state death data is subject to reporting lags, or that over 16,000 Texans have lost their lives thanks to the coronavirus so far.
Then came the kicker:
“I will be announcing more openings soon. Cheers!” his tweet ended, accompanied by a GIF of two frothy beer mugs clanking together.
It wasn’t tough to read between the lines on this one. Back on May 22, Abbott allowed Texas bars to reopen at 25 percent capacity, but after coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and fatalities skyrocketed over the next five weeks, Abbott reversed course and shut down state watering holes again on June 26.
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When Abbott announced less than three weeks ago that restaurants and other businesses already open could expand their capacity to 75 percent in most of the state, he said that it was definitely too soon to consider reopening bars because they are “nationally recognized as COVID-spreading locations,” and didn’t offer any timeline or metric that he’d use to reconsider his stance.
Abbott is right that the state’s COVID-19 stats aren’t as bad as they once were, but that doesn’t mean Texas can declare victory over the coronavirus just yet. The current statewide test positivity rate of just over 6 percent is higher than it was back in late May, and there were 1,740 more coronavirus patients in state hospitals as of Monday than there were on May 22 when Abbott first reopened bars.
Some state public health experts are already pushing back on Abbott’s pre-announcement on bars. “The Dallas County Public Health Committee, made up of experts in infectious disease and public health, strongly discourages the reopening of bars at this time,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins tweeted Monday night.
The Houston Press reached out to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo to get their takes on Abbott’s tweet, but neither of their offices immediately responded to our request for comment.