Texas bar owners reel as governor orders them closed again as COVID-19 cases spike

By Brad Brooks LUBBOCK, Texas (Reuters) - Texas and Florida, at the center of a new U.S.

Reuters June 27, 2020 04:10:41 IST
Texas bar owners reel as governor orders them closed again as COVID-19 cases spike

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By Brad Brooks

LUBBOCK, Texas (Reuters) - Texas and Florida, at the center of a new U.S. surge in coronavirus infections, on Friday took steps back from efforts to ease restrictions on businesses, ordering bars to close again and tightening rules on restaurants.

Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars across Texas to close by mid-day and required restaurants to limit indoor seating capacity to 50%, while Florida state officials told bars to immediately stop serving alcohol on their premises.

The announcement stunned bar owners who said Abbott, a Republican in his second term as governor, had given them only four hours notice that they had to close at noon. Mark Martinez, owner of a Lubbock beer garden, learned when friends texted him the news at around 8 a.m.

"I spent thousands of dollars in inventory getting ready for this weekend. I could have really used that (money) for my rent, which is due next week," Martinez said.

Tish Keller, owner of the Triple J chophouse in downtown Lubbock, said Abbott's order was a brutal blow to her business.

"We were just getting to where we could pay the bills," she said. "Taking us back down to 50% capacity means we won't have enough business to pay staff, let alone the bills."

Keller said she had no idea how long she could stay open under the new rules and dreaded having to try to rescue her business from the brink twice in one year.

Florida on Friday announced a startling 8,942 new cases of COVID-19 , the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus , eclipsing the state's one-day record of 5,511 reached on June 24.

Texas had been at the forefront of states peeling away restrictions designed to control the pandemic. It allowed bars to reopen in May, when revelers flouting social distancing rules celebrated Memorial Day weekend.

It has since witnessed some of the biggest increases in new cases in the United States, reporting 5,996 on Thursday. The state has also seen record numbers of hospitalizations in the last two weeks.

Almost 125,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 , the highest death toll from the highly infections disease in the world.

Despite the grim news from Texas, Florida and elsewhere, U.S. President Donald Trump said the United states was coming back from the coronavirus crisis, which has halted large parts of the economy and left millions jobless.

"We have a little work to do, and we'll get it done. We're having some very good numbers coming out in terms of the comeback, the comeback of our nation, and I think it's going very rapidly and it's going to be very good," he said at an event in the White House.

Vice President Mike Pence said that in Texas and Florida "we're seeing more and more young people, under the age of 35, who are testing positive. In many cases they have no symptoms."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo criticized states that reopened their economies earlier, saying there was "undeniable, irrefutable evidence" those states made a mistake.

Cuomo, a Democrat, told a briefing that states that followed guidance from the White House are now seeing a spike in cases, arguing that New York curbed the outbreak by taking what he called a scientific, rather than a political, approach.

"What's going on in this country is now frightening and revealing at the same time," Cuomo said. "I say it is time to wake up, America, and look at the undeniable facts."

Also reporting record rises in cases this week were Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks, Jonathan Allen, Nathan Layne and Peter Szekely; Writing by Alistair Bell and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Daniel Wallis)

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