EL PASO, Texas — Bars across El Paso are able to reopen Friday at 25% capacity after months of being closed due to coronavirus concerns.
The re-opening comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made the decision to delay it in El Paso and Amarillo for a week behind the rest of the state after both cities saw spikes in virus hospitalizations.
Felipe Ybarra, owner and general manager of Brass Monkey in west El Paso, told ABC-7 he’s excited for Friday’s reopening.
The bar is taking extra precautions despite the difficultly to find sanitation supplies. All employees will wear masks as advised by state guidelines and the bar will even add hand sanitizing stations along the walls.
Ybarra said a sanitizing company was also hired to sanitize the entire restaurant more thoroughly.”
Ybarra said he and his staff “wrestled” with the idea of opening up at only 25 percent capacity even though he believes “its not sustainable” at that capacity.
He added that he originally thought he could wait until bars could open at 50%, “but 25% is better than nothing right now. We need to start generating some sales.”
Several bars in the Cincinnati entertainment district are recommending to book a reservation in advance in order for them to manage the capacity percentage.
Ybarra said 25% of the capacity inside Brass Monkey is 75 people. To monitor that number was to keep only 75 chairs inside. "Outside is one of the grey areas, I believe we can be at a full capacity outside."
Despite also being a restaurant, Brass Monkey derives more than 51% of its revenue from alcohol, which did not allow it to reopen when restaurants did.
Ybarra said although he was disappointed that Gov. Abbott delayed El Paso’s reopening by a week, he was expecting an even longer delay.
A spokesman with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage told ABC-7 the agency had visited more than 400 sites across the state to make sure bars were following the governor's orders. It plans even more monitoring now that El Paso and Amarillo are joining the rest of the state in reopening.
“You’ve got to be social responsible,” Ybarra said. “That kind of outweighs the money portion and that's a tough juggle, but I’d rather lean on that end. We’re just trying to do everything we can to keep this place clean… and tread water until (the capacity) goes back up. We don’t want a spike again and then have to close all back down again.”
In El Paso, as the number of cases and deaths continue to rise, health experts advise bar patrons to be cautious.
“It is difficult, especially when you’re in a bar to not have close contact with people,” said Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the city/council health authority.
“My message would be that if you have any chronic conditions, if you belong to those at risk groups please stay home. You can enjoy a nice drink at home,” the top doctor added.
A local infectious disease expert warns customers should take precautions if planning to head out, particularly in regards to social distancing.
"The distancing between two people is still going to be preserved, and we have to make sure that the total number of people in these facilities is actually kept to a safe number," said Dr. Armando Meza with Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso.
Ybarra said all he wants are for his employees and customers to feel safe.
"We have a lot of great customers," Ybarra said. "I want them to feel safe, have a good time, be safe in every sense of the manner and just come out and enjoy.”
Below are the Texas state guidelines on what bars need to do to reopen.