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Bexar County will not opt into a statewide order allowing Texas bars in some counties to reopen, County Judge Nelson Wolff said on Wednesday.
Bexar County joins a cohort of Democrat-led counties in urban parts of the state in declining to reopen bars, which had been anecdotally linked to super-spreader events in San Antonio. Leaders in Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties also opted not to allow bars to reopen.
Beginning Oct. 14, bars in counties that opt in can welcome patrons indoors at 50 percent capacity, but customers must be seated while eating or drinking.
Wolff said at a press briefing on Wednesday that he hopes to see more data before making a determination on whether the county ultimately opts in.
For example, many bars have adapted to pandemic regulations introducing more food options to become classified as food-serving establishments by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Bars are businesses that make 51 percent of their revenue from the sale of alcoholic drinks, according to TABC.
So it’s unclear, he said, how many would be affected if the county lifted prohibitions on the operation of bars locally.
Wolff said he has asked Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger, the former director of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, to issue recommendations for his consideration by Oct. 14.
“I’ll have that information before making the final decision,” he said. “I want to be fair, and I want to have an opportunity to look at the health consequences as well.”
“What you’re hearing up here is not a flat no,” added Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “It’s that we’re going to go through a process and make sure that we’re opening in a safe manner.”
In counties with 15 percent of its hospital admissions related to COVID-19, bars will not be able to open, per Gov. Greg Abbott’s Wednesday order.
In addition to bars, businesses with capacity limited to 50 percent currently, such as movie theaters and bowling alleys, will be able to expand to 75 percent capacity.
Golareh Agha, director of informatics at Metro Health, said on Wednesday that while local case investigations do not single out bars as a source of coronavirus transmission, they have cropped up anecdotally amid local tracing efforts. Before they were forced to shutter statewide as COVID-19 overwhelmed hospitals throughout the state, a few bars in San Antonio saw transmission among staff and customers and had to close to sanitize their facilities.
“It’s not always possible to say that it’s this particular place that is the culprit, or it’s restaurants versus bars,” Agha said. “What we see is that the way it pans out is the same exact way we’ve always talked about spread happening – people congregating in enclosed areas, lots of talking, and not wearing masks.”
An additional 214 cases of coronavirus were reported in Bexar County on Wednesday, bringing the overall caseload to 59,153 and the seven-day moving average up from 126 on Tuesday to 134.
No COVID-19-related deaths were reported among local residents, as the death toll remains at 1,138.
Area hospitals are treating 203 COVID-19 patients. Among those are 84 intensive-care patients and 39 on ventilators.