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New COVID rules open doors for state’s bars

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Bandera County’s overall COVID-19 caseload did not grow significantly during the week, but the number of active COVID cases in the county grew to 3 as of Monday, Oct. 12, up from zero as recently as Thursday, Oct. 8.

The total caseload on Monday reached 198, one more than a day earlier and two more than were reported on Thursday. On Oct. 5, the total caseload in the county stood at 197.

The number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus outbreak remained at 3 on Monday, the same it has been since Sept. 4.

The numbers continued to show a slight increase in the total COVID caseload and no significant changes in active cases, which have bounced around from a high of 6 on Sept. 21 to zero on Sept. 28 and last week before climbing to 3 this week.

Bandera County Emergency Management Coordinator Carey Reed said she knew of no potential problem areas in the county and had been getting no calls from people fearful they may have contracted the virus and looking for a site to be tested.

The superintendents of both the Bandera and Medina independent school districts reported that as of Tuesday, Oct. 6, no active cases of the virus had been detected in their populations.

With the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in decline statewide since late July and more testing available for the virus in the state, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a new Executive Order on Wednesday, Oct. 7, allowing all businesses in the state to open their doors to more people, up to 75 percent of their listed occupancy as of Wednesday, Oct. 14, assuming they were not in areas where patients hospitalized for COVID exceeded 15 percent of the total hospital capacity in the county’s trauma service area.

In addition, bars and similar establishments, which receive more than 51 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages, were allowed to reopen at 50 percent of their capacity as of Oct. 14 after months of being closed.

The reopening is allowable only in counties without high COVID hospitalization rates and whose county judges file required paperwork with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Reed said she felt Bandera County’s trauma service area did not exhibit the high COVID hospitalization rates that would keep bars from opening.

She also believed County Judge Richard Evans planned to file the paperwork needed to get the bars open once she and the judge received clear word on what kind of documentation was needed.

Many bars in Bandera County already had started serving customers again after altering their state licenses to something more aligned with restaurants or by allowing patrons to buy alcohol on a to-go basis and not consume it on premises.

But word that bars had the chance to open their doors again was good news to many bar operators.

James McGroarty, owner of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar in Bandera, said he spent extra money to switch his license to a food and beverage permit that has allowed him to go back into operation for about two weeks, but he is happy the new order allows other bars who had not revised their licenses to open again, at least partially.

“It’s time for Texas to open back up,” he said.

John Fee, a bartender at the Red Horse Saloon in Bandera, said the new rules will still impose restrictions on bars, like having to close at 11 p.m., but he believes the county will sign on for the changes, and bars will get back on their feet.

“We’ll be ready to rock-and-roll on Wednesday,” said Fee.