- The Washington Times
Friday, June 26, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he is ordering bars to close at noon Friday and restricting restaurant capacity as of Monday because of an alarming increase in hospital visits for the coronavirus and the share of people testing positive.

Mr. Abbott said places that receive more than half of their receipts from alcohol can still offer delivery and takeout.

Restaurants can maintain dine-in service but cannot exceed 50% of their indoor occupancy. Rafting and tubing businesses must close, while outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people must be approved by local governments.

Meanwhile, Florida shattered its one-day record for known cases Friday, reporting 8,942 infections from the previous day.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, tied the number to a “big test dump” and said that “nothing has changed in the past week.”

At the same time, he issued an emergency order suspending the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption at bars and other places that derive most of their sales from booze. Officials fear young people are fueling the spike by crowding into bars.

The orders are high-profile reversals in America’s push to get back to normal after the depths of the pandemic.

Mr. Abbott said he was forced to crack down after the positivity rate for the virus exceeded 10%. Experts consider a percentage of 10% or more a sign that officials aren’t detecting enough cases in the community.

“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said. “The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and enhance public health. We want this to be as limited in duration as possible. However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part.”

Also Friday, the Trump administration said it would extend federal support for five COVID-19 testing sites in Texas for 14 days.

Republicans Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn pleaded for the extension even as administration officials downplayed the planned withdrawal, saying they were simply handing things over to state officials and that no services would be lost.

Texas and Florida are among a number of Sun Belt states seeing a surge in cases, even as the hard-hit Northeast regains its footing.

Florida shattered its one-day record for known cases Friday, reporting 8,942 infections from the previous day.

Arizona and California are reporting single-day highs in cases on a regular basis, and experts say an accompanying uptick in hospital stays and positivity rates indicate the surge isn’t just due to greater testing.

Alabama and South Carolina are worry spots, too, based on their latest data.

Trump administration officials have acknowledged the surge but say the cases are concentrated in younger people, so the risk of death from COVID-19 is far lower than it was in March and April.

Still, the spike is raising doubts about some governors’ push to reopen their economies while the virus was still on the march.

Texas began a phased reopening May 1 after the COVID-19 shutdown of most of the country in mid-March. It was the second state, behind Georgia, to get back to business.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ruled out new restrictions Friday despite a rise in Peach State positive tests.

Mr. Kemp, a Republican who was accused of mass murder when he became the first governor to relax COVID-19 restrictions, said the state is holding its own and that mandating masks was “a bridge too far,” though he told officials to remain vigilant.

“I’m certainly not imposing new restrictions right now,” Mr. Kemp said. “I think what we have on the books has done very well for us.”

Mr. Abbott, meanwhile, decided to act as cases skyrocketed, especially among young people who were crowding into bars. Some popular outdoor activities in the Texas summer, such as rafting, were also viewed as culprits and targeted in Mr. Abbott’s order.

Texas recently reported a single-day high of over 5,000 cases.

Mr. Abbott’s stern rhetoric amid the surge contrasts with pronouncements he made as recently as early June, when he saw “no real need” to halt the reopening measures he’d set in motion several weeks earlier. At the time, Mr. Abbott cited the availability of hospital beds as a positive statistic.

Now, Texas is scrambling to free up space. In the Houston area, the children’s hospital is accepting adults to expand capacity.

Mr. Abbott told Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, as well as Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties to suspend elective surgeries at area hospitals.

Houston is in Harris County and Austin is located in Travis County.

Friday’s order made no new mention of requiring masks, which means local officials can choose whether to mandate them in public spaces.

One hot spot contributing to the recent surge has been child care centers.

The Dallas Morning News reported on the child care outbreaks last weekend, tying outbreaks in the state to a May decision that opened them to children of workers dubbed “nonessential.”

As of Friday, there were 410 new COVID-19 cases — 267 staff members and 143 children — among the state’s 318 licensed child care operations, according to the newspaper.

The surge across the South and West, even as other regions improve, is leading to partisan sniping.

Speaking on CNN, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo castigated Mr. DeSantis for boasting about his early efforts to control COVID-19 vis-a-vis New York, saying, “You played politics with this virus and you lost.”

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are scrutinizing Mr. Cuomo’s decision to make nursing homes admit COVID-positive patients.

“The governor of New York was putting COVID-positive patients back in an environment where the most susceptible people were,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican. “That’s what we need to know — why that all happened, how bad it really was, the real numbers from New York and these other states that didn’t follow the [federal] guidelines.”

Mr. Jordan made the remarks at a Friday oversight hearing on federal spending in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m sure that the governor of New York’s decision caused all those nursing home deaths in Texas,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, shot back.

David Sherfinski contributed to this story.

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