Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday he was giving the OK for bars to open next week, with some stipulations.
Pandemic precautions need to be in place, of course, and COVID-19 positivity rates need to be considered. But the biggest condition lies with county leadership. Abbott left it up to county leaders to decide whether bars in their jurisdictions can open.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry announced almost before the governor’s social media post got its first “like” that he would be reopening the county’s bars “immediately.”
And he wasn’t kidding. On Thursday, Henry said Galveston County bars needn’t even wait until Wednesday — the governor’s announced day — to reopen.
“We’re telling any small business to be safe and open up the way you would do it considering the circumstances,” Henry said Thursday. “We’re not going to put in any effort into enforcing it between now and then. What’s the point of issuing an order between now and next week? That makes no sense to me.”
He also said the county wouldn’t enforce social distancing and other pandemic-related precautions inside bars. Rather, bar owners would be responsible for ensuring that staff and patrons comply.
“I want the business to operate in a safe manner,” Henry said. “If they don’t, they can go down on their own accord. They shouldn’t have the government dictating what we think makes sense.”
Reopening the bars is a good thing. We agree with what seems to be a majority opinion in the county: “It’s about time.” It’s good news for bar owners and their customers, and it’s good news for the local economy.
Only time will tell if reopening bars will cause infection rates to increase. The same is true of any new spate of reopenings, reconvenings and resumptions.
But with the proper precautions in place, we’ve been allowed to eat in restaurants for months now, so why should bars be any different? Like Mike Dean, owner of various establishments in Galveston, said Thursday, “If it’s 6-foot social distancing and masks, what does it matter what you’ve got in your mouth?”
And we’ve been allowed to go to church and to shop and to travel in trains, planes and automobiles. Whether you’re sitting on a barstool or in a church pew, the virus is out there, waiting for you to get stupid. The best way to avoid it is to stay smart and take the proper precautions, such as wearing masks and keeping 6 feet from others.
If you’re in a group especially at risk because of some physical condition, you need to stay even smarter and avoid any situation that might get you infected.
It was time for bars to reopen. And for restaurants to increase their seating capacity. Just as it’s time for life as we know it — or knew it — to resume. But with conditions and common sense. Masking, social distancing, limited gatherings, frequent and proper hand washing and an increased focus on hygiene and sanitization all will go a long way toward helping us coexist with COVID, which it looks like we’re going to have to do for the foreseeable future.
We’re glad of this most recent step toward getting things back to normal and giving more Galveston County businesses the opportunity to regroup and make money again.
And we’re hoping that a sense of personal responsibility continues to spread and deepen among all of us so that we can continue moving, safely, in the right direction.
• Margaret Battistelli Gardner