AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A group of Texas bar owners filed lawsuits Monday seeking to overturn Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that closed their businesses to help contain the spread of the coronavirus in Texas.
Abbott has pinpointed the re-opening of bars last month as one of the sources behind a dramatic spike in new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations that has made Texas a national hotspot in a virus resurgence.
On Monday, Texas reported that it had a record high for the state of 5,913 COVID-19 hospital patients, including a one-day increase of 416 new patients.
The state also reported 4,288 additional confirmed cases, which was the first time the daily count dipped below 5,000 in a week. The true number is likely much higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected and not feel sick.
The lawsuits filed in Austin, Houston and Galveston allege Abbott doesn’t have the authority under the state constitution to make such an order, and that it targets bars while allowing other establishments, such as hair and nail salons and tattoo studios to remain open.
Abbott’s order shuttered establishments that make at least 51 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales. It also trimmed restaurant dining capacity from 75 percent to 50 percent.”
The bar owners say Abbott should bring the Legislature into a special session to address the issue.
“Gov. Abbott continues to act like a king,” said Jared Woodfill, attorney for the bar owners. “Abbott is unilaterally destroying our economy and trampling on our constitutional rights.”
A spokesman for Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission said agents visited nearly 1,500 business across the state over the weekend to ensure compliance with Abbott's order and found that 59 were still open. Of those, most agreed to immediately close and seven who didn't had their licenses suspended for 30 days.
In Houston, Fire Chief Samuel Peña said the city responded to more than 300 complaints about bars and clubs that were open and restaurants that were exceeding capacity limits.
Also Monday, the University of Texas released new plans for its fall semester return-to-school for the 50,000-student campus. They include a mandatory mask policy inside campus buildings, the same tuition rate for online or in-person classes, and plans for double-occupancy in most dorm rooms.
The virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks in most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.