Florida, Texas Close Bars Amid COVID-19 Surge

By: - June 26, 2020 12:00 am

Patrons converse in an outdoor dining area of a restaurant in The Villages, Florida. Florida and Texas are closing their bars as the states battle record surges in coronavirus cases. Phelan M. Ebenhack/The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

Florida and Texas are closing their bars as the states battle record surges in coronavirus cases.

Both states announced the new restrictions Friday after each saw spikes of more than 5,000 new cases a day this week, roughly five times the daily figures in April and May.

“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health. We want this to be as limited in duration as possible.”

Halsey Beshears, Florida secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, announced on Twitter on Friday that the department is “suspending on premises consumption of alcohol at bars statewide.” The order is effective immediately.

However, Florida and Texas bars may continue to sell alcoholic beverages as a to-go option. And Florida’s restaurants may operate with indoor service so long as they derive 50% or less of gross revenue from the sale of alcohol to be consumed inside the establishment, according to the state’s emergency order.

On Friday, Florida reported 8,942 new COVID-19 cases and 39 resident deaths.

In June, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has “increased significantly,” especially among younger people suspected to have contracted the virus in bars, pubs and nightclubs “who have disregarded the restrictions set forth in Phase 2” of reopening, the order states.

At a news conference Friday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said community transmission is being driven by younger people who are largely asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

The changes in both states come after several weeks that saw crowded restaurants, beaches and bars despite percent capacity and other limits on certain types of gatherings. Earlier this week, Abbott announced that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission was closing overcrowded bars that are not in compliance.

On Friday, Abbott took a step further and scaled back restaurant capacity to 50%, closed rafting and tubing businesses and ordered outdoor gatherings of 100 or more to be approved by local governments with certain exceptions.

Abbott has consistently encouraged Texans to wear face masks, social distance and sanitize their hands often, but has been criticized for stopping short of instituting statewide mandates.

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April Simpson

April Simpson reports on rural issues at Stateline. Before joining Pew, Simpson was associate editor of Current, where she covered public broadcasting and nonprofit media.