Comal County has opted into Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent orders allowing reopenings of bars at partial capacity beginning on Wednesday.
Judge Sherman Krause said last week that he planned to discuss aspects of the governor’s latest order with city officials and business owners and hoped to wrap those Friday or early Monday. The county said it submitted paperwork Thursday, one day after Abbott allowed counties to work with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in allowing resumption of in-person bar services at 50% capacity indoors and without capacity limits outdoors. County judges were allowed the option in areas where COVID-19 patients total 15% or fewer of those hospitalized.
Bar patrons must wear masks when not seated at tables, and tables must be limited to six people or fewer. They must be seated while eating or drinking indoors, with exceptions for breweries, distilleries and wineries. All establishments must follow an 11 p.m. curfew on serving alcohol, set by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“Many businesses in our community have been struggling because of the pandemic, but we have an opportunity to re-open in a way that keeps customers and employees safe,” Krause said in a statement issued Monday.
The order does not clear river outfitters to resume all services and still prohibits gatherings of 10 or more in rafting, tubing and related activities unless approved by the county judge.
“The governor mentioned river activities when announcing his order and we’re checking now to make sure what it entails,” Krause said.
The judge said many county establishments have transitioned into restaurant operations that allow alcohol to be served on premises. The order will free up the few that have remained shuttered throughout the pandemic.
“COVID-19 is still a threat to our community, but this is a small step we can take toward getting back to normal,” he said. “Business owners need to take this health threat seriously, but we can still provide a safe environment while open for business. It’s up to us to do it right.”
Since the governor’s announcement the county developed an “Open Safe Plan” for reopening bars throughout all cities and county areas. Krause said it included input from TABC and local health authorities, mayors, and law enforcement agencies, and requires bar owners to satisfactorily complete items in a three-page checklist before receiving reopening approval.
“To open bars, owners simply complete and submit an ‘Open Safe Plan’ certifying they will follow the required health and safety measures including social distancing, sanitation, and hygiene practices,” the county said.
Krause said those checklists will be reviewed by County Fire Marshal Kory Klabunde’s office, which will immediately issue approvals to get businesses open as soon as Wednesday.
“The fire marshal’s office can sign off on it and get them everything they need right on the spot,” Krause said.
Krause said Klabunde’s office and Comal County Sheriff’s Office COVID-19 Task Force will visit bars to ensure they are complying and aren’t serving alcohol past 11 p.m.
“The city of New Braunfels code enforcement office has said it will assist in compliance efforts as well,” Krause said. “The idea is to get businesses open without endangering the health of the community and we think it can be done.”
New Braunfels city officials issued no statement or comment Monday. David Ferguson, city communications coordinator, said the city continues to “follow the governor’s orders” and has posted COVID-19 guidelines and face-covering mandates in Abbott’s GA-29 and GA-32 orders on the city website and social media pages.
Last week, the city canceled the annual Downtown Spooktacular and announced three other Halloween events would be under limited capacity with COVID-19 restrictions.
Several nearby counties had decided or were still on the fence Monday. On Friday, Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra allowed bars to reopen under recommendations venues employ outdoor seating, remove half of all tables and limit musical acts outside.
“The majority of mayors and other elected officials were supportive but cautious,” Becerra told the Austin American-Statesman. “They want to be able to tell business owners they can get back to work and earning a living but recognize that if we do, the process must be deliberate and thoughtful. This is a public safety issue and our goal is to always protect public safety.”
Over the weekend, judges in Bexar, Dallas and Harris counties said they would not open bar venues. Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher was still weighing a decision Monday, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he expected Travis County leaders to make an announcement sometime this week.
“If the numbers begin trending upward we’ll have to reevaluate where we stand and work to see what exactly is contributing to those numbers,” Krause said.