Texas and Florida are forcing bars to close for the second time and Arizona’s residents are being told to stay home as the states scramble to contain outbreaks amid record spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Governor Greg Abbott gave bars in Texas until midday on Friday to close down, while Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation told bars to immediately stop serving alcohol on their premises.
The abrupt announcements marked a major step back by both states less than two months after aggressively reopening and becoming the first in the United States to lift lockdown measures.
Abbott, who allowed bars to reopen in May when thousands of revelers flouting social distancing rules celebrated Memorial Day weekend, forced them to close again from Friday and scaled back restaurant dining to 50 percent capacity – the most dramatic reversals yet as confirmed coronavirus cases surge.
He also said rafting and tubing outfitters on Texas’ popular rivers must close and that outdoor gatherings of 100 people or more must be approved by local governments.
The Florida agency that governs bars also said Friday the consumption of alcohol at bars across the state would be prohibited immediately as daily infections soared to nearly 9,000 – shattering the daily tolls from the previous two days.
Coronavirus cases are climbing rapidly among young adults in a number of states where bars, stores and restaurants have reopened. Young people have started going out again, many without masks, in what health experts see as irresponsible behavior.
The number of infections across the US rose by nearly 40,000 on Thursday in the largest single-day increase since the pandemic started. Deaths from COVID-19 neared 125,000 on Friday.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said the surge in new cases is down to increased testing. He tweeted Thursday night that deaths are ‘way down’ and that America’s mortality rate was ‘one of the lowest in the world’. Health officials have warned that while deaths appear to be declining, it could potentially shoot back up again because fatality rates often lag behind infection rates.
Texas had been at the forefront of states peeling away restrictions designed to control the deadly pandemic and kickstart their economies again. Gov Abbott allowed bars to reopen in May when revelers flouting social distancing rules celebrated Memorial Day weekend.
It has since witnessed one of the biggest increases in new cases in the US after reporting a record 5,996 on Thursday and more than 17,000 confirmed new cases in the last three days. The state has seen a record number of hospitalizations for 13 straight days.
Under the newest rollbacks in Texas, bars must close from noon on Friday and restaurant dining rooms must scale back to half capacity starting on Monday. Gov. Abbott did not say when bars might reopen again. The bars that are effected are ones that get 51 percent of their gross receipts from alcohol.
The shuttering of rafting and tubing businesses comes after people consistently packed waterways since the state reopened in May and ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend that typically sees big turnouts.
‘As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10%, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,’ Abbott said. ‘At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.’
The state’s rolling infection rate hit nearly 12 percent, a level not seen since the state was in a broad lockdown in mid-April.
The surge in hospitalizations has resulted in the largest pediatric hospital in the country opting to start treating adult patients in Houston to help free up beds. Statewide, the number of COVID-19 patients has more than doubled in two weeks.
The spike in cases prompted officials in Harris County, which encompasses the city of Houston, to initiate another stay-at-home order for residents.
The turnaround from Abbott came soon after he announced on Thursday that he was halting elective surgeries in the largest counties and said the state would ‘pause’ its aggressive reopening weeks after he began lifting restrictions.
His initial pause on reopening was not supposed to roll back previous orders that allowed much of the economy to reopen. The state was among the first in the country to begin lifting its lockdown measures on May 1.
Until this week, Abbott had maintained that worsening trends in June were a matter of concern but not alarm. He quickly struck a newly urgent tone this week, urging people to stay home while warning that a ‘massive outbreak’ is sweeping through Texas.
He has also now urged Texans to wear masks in public but stopped short of issuing a statewide mask order. The state’s cities and counties have imposed new orders on businesses to require customers and workers to wear face coverings after Abbott initially prohibited local officials from fining or penalizing anyone for not wearing a mask.
Florida officials also announced on Friday that the consumption of alcohol at bars across the state was now prohibited as daily infections soared to nearly 9,000 – shattering the daily tolls from the previous two days.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which governs bars in Florida, said it was suspending on premises consumption of alcohol at bars statewide.
It comes after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday he was pausing the state’s reopening due to the surge in cases as he resisted calls to mandate masks.
The state has reported 8,942 new coronavirus cases, which is up from the previous record for a single-day increase of 5,508 cases on Wednesday.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Emily Crane