AUSTIN, Texas -- Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday that bars would soon be allowed to re-open in Texas for the first time since June. But only at 50% capacity in areas of the state with low hospitalization rates from Covid-19.
Counties must also grant permission for bars to begin opening up next week and are responsible for ensuring enforcement of the state's virus safety protocols, Abbott said.
That means county judges would be able to opt their county out of bar openings that could start Oct. 14 under the governor's latest executive order.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said he has already sent a letter to Abbott asking him to exempt El Paso from bar re-openings.
In his letter, Samaniego cited El Paso hospitalization rates at 15% and an upward trajectory of new infections as reasons for opting out.
"Unfortunately, the group with the highest percentage of active Covid cases is young people between the ages of 20 to 29. Opening bars in El Paso will only further increase the positive cases in this age group," Samaniego wrote.
As a state, Texas this week surpassed 16,000 virus deaths and is closing in on 800,000 confirmed cases. Last month, Abbott began relaxing some coronavirus restrictions for the first time since a massive summer outbreak hammered Texas.
"Texans have shown that we can contain the spread of Covid-19 by following health protocols and guidelines," Abbott said on Wednesday. "Our state is prepared for these additional openings, but we all must remain vigilant and show personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones."
Although the state's virus caseloads have dramatically dropped since August, hospitalizations in Texas have remained flat at roughly 3,200 patients for two weeks.
Aside from bars re-opening, the governor in his latest executive order said amusement parks, movie theaters, zoos, aquariums, and bowling alleys would be able to expand to 75% capacity beginning Oct. 12.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)