The governors of Florida and Texas closed down the bars Friday to slow down the spread of the coronavirus that has been rampaging at record levels through their states.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the bar shutdown as the state health department reported 8,942 new COVID-19 cases, shattering the previous record of 5,508 set just two days ago.
But DeSantis, who has been resisting calls to slow down the reopening of his state, left it to Halsey Beshears, the Secretary of Department of Business and Professional Regulation, to convey his message in a tweet.
With Friday’s tally, Florida now has reported nearly 123,000 coronavirus case, with more than 32,000 of them confirmed in just the last seven days.
Back in April, when states like New York were being battered by the virus while Florida was reporting far fewer cases, DeSantis claimed victory over the virus while on a visit with President Donald Trump at the White House.
“Everyone in the media was saying Florida would be like New York or Italy and that has not happened,” DeSantis said. “We had a tailored and measured approach that not only helped our numbers be way below what anybody predicted, but also did less damage to our state going forward.”
In Texas, Gov. Gregg Abbott made his move one day after he hit the pause button on Texas’ plans to reopen and the numbers of new cases continued to soar. He also put strict limits on restaurant dining in his new order.
“As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10% the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement. “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.”
All establishments that rake in more than 51 percent of income from alcohol had until noon to close their doors, although they would still be allowed to stay open for take-out or delivery sales.
Restaurants will be allowed to stay open, but starting Monday at less than 50 percent capacity.
Abbott’s order also extends to tourist-friendly businesses like tubing and rafting, which were ordered immediately closed. And public gatherings of 100 people or more will need to be approved by local governments, with certain unspecified exceptions, Abbott’s office said.
“We need everybody to religiously wear their masks and to social distance to see if we can get off that trajectory,” Austin mayor Steve Alder said on MSNBC.
That’s not easy to do in bars which are “emerging as fertile breeding grounds for the coronavirus,” the Kaiser Health Network reported Friday. “They create a risky cocktail of tight quarters, young adults unbowed by the fear of illness and, in some instances, proprietors who don’t enforce crowd limits and social distancing rules.”
In addition to Florida and Texas, bars have been identified as sources of coronavirus outbreaks in Louisiana and Idaho, according to KHN.
“People almost don’t want to social-distance if they go to the bar,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told KHN. “They’re going to be drinking alcohol, which is a social lubricant. People will often be loud, and if they have forceful speech, that’s going to create more droplets.”
The surprise moves by Florida and Texas come one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the true number of Americans who have been infected could top 20 million. On Wednesday, the U.S. saw a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day, with 45,557 reported, according to a tally by NBC News.
Meanwhile, another Southern state, Alabama, was branded a COVID-19 hot-spot state Friday a day after health officials recorded 1,129 new cases — the most in a single day since the start of the pandemic.
As the pandemic showed no signs of slowing down, the Trump Administration asked the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare, endangering insurance coverage for some 20 million Americans and wipe out their protection for pre-existing conditions.