Texas bars can reopen May 22, restaurants allowed at 50 percent capacity

Gov. Greg Abbott said bars across the state can reopen beginning on Friday.

Bars were one of the last businesses in the state that had not been allowed to operate in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bars can reopen at 25 percent capacity, with no restrictions on outdoor areas.

State officials said there should be no dancing in the venues and everyone should be seated.

Also on Friday, restaurants can operate at 50 percent instead of 25 percent capacity.

Governor Abbott says the past month has shown a “downward trajectory” when it comes to the coronavirus. He says despite some hotspots, more businesses can safely reopen.

“Texas is prepared to move into Phase 2 for the further opening of businesses,” Abbott said.

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Other businesses that can reopen Friday include: bowling alleys, bingo halls, skating rinks, rodeo/ equestrian events, aquariums, natural caverns. Zoos will be able to reopen on May 29.

Youth sports camps can reopen on May 31 along with all summer camps and daytime and overnight camps. Summer school is allowed beginning June 1.

Abbott said childcare services were allowed to be open immediately for all Texans, not just essential workers.

READ MORE: Child care centers in Texas allowed to immediately reopen

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“COVID-19, it still exists in Texas,” the governor said. “Our goal is to find ways to coexist with COVID-19 as safely as possible.”

Abbott said all of his openings were unanimously supported by his panel of experts that he is consulting on how to handle COVID-19 and businesses.

Abbott cited improved numbers in hospitalizations and in the positivity rate in opening more parts of the economy.

Abbott said most of the COVID-19 cases in Texas are at nursing homes, jails and meatpacking plants. He said efforts are ongoing to increase testing in the Amarillo area, specifically, the site of an outbreak at a plant. He also said testing rates were increasing.

"Just the first half of May we more than doubled the number of [COVID-19] tests in all of March and April combined,” Abbott said.

Texas Democrats in a press call argued Abbott's response is mismanaged and criticized the additional openings.

“This weekend was the most deadly in Texas. We had the highest amount of total cases since this crisis began,” said Gilbert Hinojosa, state party chairman.

After hearing the new guidance from the governor, Jon Alexis, owner of TJ’s Seafood in Dallas, met with his staff to go over new protocols.  When FOX 4 talked to Alexis earlier this month, he was not comfortable opening his restaurant even at 25 percent capacity and only doing take out and curbside orders. Now, he says his staff is ready.

Alexis says they will use single-use menus. Sanitizer on all tables and condiments will be in one-time use containers.

“You want everyone to see you are taking things seriously,” he said. “But you want to balance that with not making it weird.”

When it comes to non-essential retail stores, Gov. Abbott decided to keep their capacity at 25 percent.

Some bar owners across North Texas were frustrated because they were not allowed to open when restaurants could.

Michael Klein is the president of the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance. He hoped the governor would allow them to return at 50 percent capacity. Instead, it will be at 25 percent on Friday.

“The difference between zero and any number is the Grand Canyon to us,” Klein said. “We are just happy to be able to open and have revenue coming in.”

Bars will have sanitizing stations when customers enter. Menus and things like cups have to be one-time use items.

Klein says in the coming days they will also issue additional guidance for their member bars across the state.

“The main thing is public safety. No one wants terrible outbreaks,” he said. “At the same time, Americans have been living normal lives anyway. You have to go to the grocery store, getting haircuts, getting takeout. Life has to continue.”

RELATED: Interactive map of Texas COVID-19 cases