Texas Restaurants, Bars to Reopen at Full Capacity; Workers Not Yet Eligible for Vaccine
"Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared," Governor Greg Abbott said, "but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed."
On Tuesday afternoon, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted, "Get ready. Big announcement in 15 minutes." Just over an hour later, he followed up with another tweet. "I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%. EVERYTHING," he wrote. "I also ended the statewide mask mandate."
Abbott has since released an executive order, which explains that Texas will be 'OPEN 100%' starting at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, March 10, and this order also rescinds all of his previous pandemic-related executive orders. "With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus," he said. "We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed."
That means that yeah, bars and restaurants throughout the state will be allowed to reopen at full indoor capacity starting next week. Customers will not be required to practice social distancing and, although the order "strongly" encourages people to continue wearing masks, they will not be required. According to Eater, restaurants were previously limited to 75% of indoor capacity, with adequate social distancing. Customers were required to wear face coverings before and after they were seated at their table (and were obviously allowed to remove them to eat and drink).
But not everyone is psyched about the governor's decision—especially since only an estimated 6.5 percent of the state's population has been vaccinated so far. As of March 3, restaurant workers in Texas are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. Abbott's most recent order does allow businesses to "limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their own discretion," and a number of restaurants have already announced their plans to do that. Both Houstonia and the Dallas Morning News have published lists of dozens of establishments that will continue to mandate mask wearing, social distancing, reduced capacity—or a combination of the three.
Andrew Savoie, owner of Resident Taqueria in East Dallas, is among those who will continue to require customers to wear a mask. "I personally feel it's too soon to just lift the mandate," he told the Dallas Morning News. "However, as an owner, I have the right to do what I wish for my business."
On Monday, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that although the number of new cases nationwide has dropped from a high of around 250,000 per day in January to around 70,000 per day, we seem to be stuck there. "With these statistics, I am really worried about more states rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
"Seventy thousand cases a day seems good compared to where we were just a few months ago. Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained."
And some epidemiologists are concerned that it could still be too soon for an all-in, "EVERYTHING IS OPEN" approach. "We're, hopefully, in between what I hope will be the last big wave, and the beginning of the period where I hope Covid will become very uncommon," Robert Horsburgh, an epidemiologist at the Boston University School of Public Health, told the New York Times. "But we don't know that. I've been advocating for us to just hang tight for four to six more weeks."
In Texas, though, they'll just be hanging tight for another seven days.