Coronavirus in Austin, Texas: Bars at 100% capacity a concern

Dr. Mark Escott said he believes it is “reckless” bars are allowed to be open in the first place.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Friday, Dr. Mark Escott said Austin Public Health is “extremely concerned” about local bars being able to open back up to 100%, following Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement earlier this week that, effective March 10, he will be lifting COVID-19 safety restrictions statewide, including face masks mandates and businesses capacity limitations.

“Look, I think it’s reckless for bars to be open in the first place, particularly now when we’ve got increasing concern about variance,” said Dr. Escott. “We also have to remember that those individuals who frequent bars are the same groups of individuals who have close to zero vaccinations.”

As of Friday, vaccine focus has been on those who are 65 years or older. Dr. Escott said that it’s safe to expect that people in their 20s or 30s, who are often frequenting places like bars and restauraunts, have low rates of vaccination.

“So, we can expect if bars open 100% and they don’t require masks, that we’ll see a rapid and efficient transmission in those age groups,” he said. “Certainly anticipate if that does happen that we’ll start to see some flattening and then an increase in cases and hospitalizations later in March and further increases from there.”

RELATED: Austin will consider bar, restaurant regulations if it sees ‘unsafe practices’

Based on previous patterns, Dr. Escott said that after events and holidays, health experts see an increase in COVID-19 cases in younger people. In subsequent weeks, it then spreads to older individuals.

“So, we’re very concerned about businesses opening to 100%, extremely concerned about bars opening to 100%,” he added.

Earlier this week, local leaders said they would be looking into legal options – such as potentially placing a limit on when businesses can serve alcohol – in order to ensure safe practices at bars and restaurants in the City. 

“We’re looking at all options to make the experience safer for people that go to restaurants,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said. “If [ending alcohol sales before 2 a.m.] is something that we can do under the law, that is absolutely something that we would consider. The thing that Dr. Mark Escott has always said to me – and that I have seen based on his numbers – is that when you take your mask off, especially at a bar or restaurant and you’re close to people, that’s where COVID spreads the most.”

According to Gov. Abbott’s executive order, businesses can still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols – including requiring masks – at their own discretion. Businesses also reserve the right to refuse service to any patrons who do not follow stated protocols. 

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