Bars cannot safely reopen with current hospitalization trends, Austin Public Health officials say

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Photo Credit: Jack Myer | Daily Texan Staff

Bars in Austin cannot safely open to 50% capacity with the current COVID-19 infection and hospitalization trends in Travis County, Austin Public Health officials said at a Wednesday press conference.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced bars would be allowed to reopen to 50% capacity starting Oct. 14 if counties chose to opt in. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said in a statement Wednesday that bars in Austin will not be opening to 50% capacity on the recommendation of Mark Escott, Travis County interim medical director and health authority.

“In the past 10 days, Travis County has seen an increase in hospitalized individuals, ICU bed utilization and ventilator use,” Briscoe said. “As such, I cannot in good conscience allow bars to reopen at 50% of capacity at this time. The risk to our public health is too great, especially now that students of all ages have returned to the classroom.”

For the next two weeks, bars should not push forward on reopening while Austin remains in a Stage 3 risk category, Escott said.

Escott said he recommended that bars remain closed at least for the next 14 days based on a concerning trend in hospitalizations over the past week and projections from UT's modeling consortium, which indicates a 66% increase in spread over the next month. As of Tuesday, there are 90 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Travis County, 31 in the ICU and 21 on ventilators.

"Where we're acting safely ... wearing masks and social distancing and paying close attention to personal hygiene, we're not seeing significant disease transmission,” Escott said. “We are seeing it when people let their guard down in social environments."

Stephanie Hayden, director of Austin Public Health, said Austin will remain in Stage 3 until there is a decrease in hospitalizations.

"I know most people are growing weary, but it is so important for us as a community to stay strong and stay the course,” Hayden said.

If Austin enters the Stage 2 risk category, or less than 10 hospitalizations on the seven-day moving average, reopening bars would be more of a possibility, Escott said. Austin has come close to entering Stage 2 several times, but continues to go back to Stage 3, he said.

“The science shouldn't be political,” Escott said. “The science for a pandemic should really really be what drives our leaders. If the data changes in the future in two weeks time, the recommendation will change."