What a mess. The closed-open-closed status of the state’s bars and taverns has been a disaster — and blame goes up and down the line.
Let’s start with the governor’s initial reaction.
“If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a radio interview last week, The Texas Tribune reported.
That’s an interesting statement from two points of view.
One, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission was reporting the vast majority of bars and taverns were following reopening guidelines. In a press release two days before the governor ordered bars closed, TABC issued a press release.
“The fact that there were fewer than 20 violations found among 600 businesses inspected shows that bar and restaurant owners are taking their responsibilities seriously,” TABC Executive Director Bentley Nettles said. “Our goal throughout Operation Safe Open is to encourage Texas businesses to operate safely; only those which put their customers’ lives in danger will face penalties.”
Two days later, all bars were handed penalties: They were ordered closed.
Secondly, the swift increase began after the Memorial Day weekend. Young people congregate in places other than bars — like the beach or in large gatherings elsewhere. During the Memorial Day weekend, Galveston’s beaches could be fairly described as being packed.
Although the governor shut down the bars, he did not shut down beaches. Actually, since the Texas General Land Office makes decisions on beach openings and closures, ordering beaches closed would have been a simple matter. Yet, it took six days for the state to give local governments permission to do so.
However, Abbott did close down river rafting, where Hays County saw a spike in coronavirus cases.
But still, he’s laid the entire blame on the bar and tavern industry.
Let’s look at the effect a few bar owners had on the entire industry. The truth is the number of neighborhood bars far outnumbers the large clubs that attract young people.
And some of the operators of the larger clubs not only ignored the guidelines but flaunted their disregard of the guidelines. The biggest problem was ignoring the 50 percent occupancy rule. Sure enough, video soon was posted showing tightly packed establishments with young people on the dance floor and at the bar.
The owners of the large bars that attract young people not only broke the rules but shut down the livelihood of many, many small tavern owners.
Then there are the customers at those larger bars — yes, mostly young people. Their actions not only broke the guidelines but threatened the health of the people they later came in contact with. It was irresponsible behavior.
There is little to argue that the reopening of bars and taverns had a hand in the uptick in coronavirus cases, especially when the rise was in the 20-to-40-year-old age group. But to lay the entire problem on the bar and tavern industry is unfair. It had a lot of help.
The governor’s rationale that bar and tavern owners, essentially, were the problem is too simple of an answer.
• Dave Mathews