COVID-19

Texas bar owners sue state after being forced to close again

Andy Uhler Jun 30, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A bartender serves a drink to a customer at a bar in Austin, Texas, in May. Texas Gov. Abbott has singled out bars as the reason for a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state. Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Texas bar owners sue state after being forced to close again

Andy Uhler Jun 30, 2020
A bartender serves a drink to a customer at a bar in Austin, Texas, in May. Texas Gov. Abbott has singled out bars as the reason for a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state. Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images
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As Texas keeps setting records for the number of positive coronavirus tests — 20 days in a row now — Gov. Greg Abbott has hit the “pause” button on the reopening of the economy. 

And he singled out one industry for the spike in cases: bars.

“If I could go back and redo anything,” Abbot said Friday, “it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting.” 

Abbott gave bar owners just three hours to shut everything down. That didn’t sit well with some bar owners. On Monday, more than 30 filed a lawsuit challenging Abbott’s emergency order, saying they’re being unfairly singled out. 

One of the bar owners suing the state is Heather Vaughan. She owns the Crossroad Saloon in Big Spring where she employs about 15 people.

 “We’ve got people that are single moms that take care of everything and the first shut down was just absolutely horrible for them,” she said.

 Today her business is closed — officially, anyway.

“We’re trying to follow the rules as much as we can, you know? We just want to make a living and we are shut down,” she said.

Mostly shut down, but Vaughan is still trying to make a little money. Today, she’s opening the doors and “giving away” hamburgers. If patrons want to leave some cash, that’s their call.

“Donation-only because we can’t sell it,” she said.  

She’s desperate because the first closure in March nearly did her business in.

In Abilene, Coy Chew owns the Whiskey Girl Bar, which stayed open past the Governor’s declaration on Friday. That bought Chew a 30-day suspension of his liquor license on Saturday and led him to join the lawsuit.

“You know, it’s not that we’re trying to make light of there being a virus out there. I just think that you either shut everybody down together or nothing at all,” he said.

In Austin, Bob Woody owns a bunch of bars on Sixth Street. He followed the new state orders to close but says he’s putting together his own coalition of bar owners to file a separate lawsuit.

“Given the opportunity to get in front of a magistrate and say, ‘Just prove to us that we caused it and we’re willing to shut down.’ That’s all I want,” he said. 

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission declined to comment on the lawsuit. The Governor’s office didn’t respond to an interview request.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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