AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas bars, bowling alleys, skating rinks and even some strips clubs are set to reopen over the Memorial Day weekend as the state continues to gradually restart one of the world’s largest economies after it was ravaged by shutdowns caused by the coronavirus epidemic.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this week ordered further easing of some state restrictions that had shuttered many venues for more than a month. On Friday, the Texas Workforce Commission reported the state reached 12.8 percent unemployment in April, the highest monthly level since the state began recording the figures in January 1976.
Bars, breweries and tasting rooms will be allowed to open at 25 percent capacity and with other social distancing measures in place. Several strip clubs have said they will also reopen with some requiring the entertainers to wear masks.
Rodeos, bingo halls and aquariums also can reopen. Restaurants, which were allowed to reopen May 1 at 25 percent customer capacity, can now run at 50 percent, although many are pushing to be allowed to serve more.
Texas has reported nearly 52,500 cases of COVID-19 with 1,440 deaths. The state reported 945 new cases and 21 new deaths on Thursday.
Abbott has noted increased testing in Texas, a rate of infection that has steadily hovered around 5 percent, and available hospital space as reasons to gradually reopen, and the governor has been steadily rolling back restrictions. That has led some Democratic leaders in the state’s largest cities to question whether it is happening too fast, while some business leaders say it’s not quick enough.
The Texas Restaurant Association said this week the rollout was too slow and threatened to close some restaurants for good. The group projects it could lose as many as 30 percent of Texas’ estimated 50,000 restaurants.
“Moving to 50 percent (of customers), certainly anytime we can move in the right direction and increase capacity, that’s a good win for our restaurants. It’s just simply not enough,” association President Emily Williams Knight said. “We are working very hard now to lay out the plans to move restaurants to 75 percent in the next phase and think of lots of creative solutions to keep guests safe … No restaurant can make it on 50 percent occupancy.”
The new standards don’t apply yet in El Paso and Amarillo which have seen a recent increase in coronavirus cases.
The situation in El Paso has officials in that city and in New Mexico urging their residents not to visit each other.
Las Cruces, New Mexico Mayo Ken Miyagishima posted a Twitter message Thursday asking his residents not to visit El Paso. And El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said he will discourage resident’s there from traveling to the popular Elephant Butte reservoir in New Mexico, which normally draws Texans for picnics and boating on the holiday weekend.
The new rules for Texas allow youth sports leagues to resume in June and professional sports leagues to apply to hold events without spectators. Still undecided is how colleges will approach the 2020 football season in the fall.
In a Friday interview with Austin television state KXAN, Abbott said he hopes college football will play will play a regular season.
“My prediction is yes, we’re going to have college football beginning as scheduled on schedule with at least some level of fans in the stands,” Abbott said.
The University of Texas announced this week it would bring students back to campus for an Aug. 26 opening of the fall semester. But school officials released no plans for how they will dictate social distancing in classrooms or how the university will handle residence halls and sports.