Bar owners in Texas have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott, accusing the Texas leader of violating the state’s constitution by ordering the reclosing of bars as cases surge upward before the July 4 holiday.
Abbott on Friday issued an executive order to close bars and roll back restaurants to 50% capacity in response to a surge in coronavirus cases. The day before Abbott also paused the state’s reopening plan. On Tuesday, Texas, whose April 2 stay at home order was issued later than most other states, logged a record number of positive COVID-19 cases.
A representative for the governor did not respond for immediate comment.
On Friday, he said bars could remain open for delivery and take-out, including for alcoholic beverages. The governor also ordered the closure of rafting and tubing businesses. Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments.
“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Abbott said last week. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and enhance public health. We want this to be as limited in duration as possible.”
Bar owners in Texas are not the only ones being forced to reclose amid a surge in coronavirus cases in states that are in various stages of reopening.
Last week, Florida also closed its bars as a result of skyrocketing coronavirus counts. On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the reclosure of bars in seven counties due to the rising number of cases in those jurisdictions including Los Angeles County. On Tuesday, health officials in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, ordered bars and restaurants to cease on-site consumption of alcohol to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Madison & Dane County officials in Wisconsin said customers may enter bars only for the purposes of ordering, pickup, and payment of food or beverage or while in transit. In that county, health officials said 482 individuals tested positive for COVID-19 between June 20 and June 26. It was the highest of any seven day period.
Of those cases, 59% of the individuals are ages 20-29. After interviews with persons testing positive for COVID-19, 35% said they had visited a bar, "representing the largest time and location-bound clusters of the epidemic so far," county officials said.
In Texas, the more than 20 bar owners suing the governor include Tonia Allen Parker, who owns Machine Shed Bar and Grill in Kilgore, Texas.
She and other bar owners maintain that Abbott and state alcohol regulators, also named in the suit, are unfairly blaming bars as the reason for the spike in cases.
In the suit, the bar owners say the governor has not put tight restrictions on establishments whose interaction with customers are more intimate including hair salons, barber shops, nail salons and tattoo shops.
“You can’t tell me that my tiny little bar is the problem. He’s the problem,” she told the The Washington Post. “He’s targeting us, and it’s discrimination.”
The bar owners’ rights “under the Texas Constitution are being trampled,” the suit states. "Unfortunately for plaintiffs and other bar owners, they have been relegated to Governor Abbott’s loser category and sentenced to bankruptcy."
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