Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday expressed regret for the first known time about the reopening process he spearheaded during the coronavirus pandemic, saying he should not have allowed bars to open as quickly.
"If I could go back and redo anything, 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 said during an evening interview with KVIA in El Paso.
Abbott added that the "bar setting, in reality, just doesn't work with a pandemic," noting people "go to bars to get close and to drink and to socialize, and that's the kind of thing that strokes the spread of the coronavirus."
In a subsequent interview with WFAA in Dallas, Abbott reiterated regret over the pace of bar reopenings, calling it an "easy thing to pinpoint" as he looks back on the process.
Abbott's comments came hours after he shut down bars across the state as part of a series of moves to contain a coronavirus spike in Texas. He also scaled back restaurant capacity to 50%, shut down rafting and tubing businesses, and banned outdoor gatherings of over 100 people unless approved by local officials.
"At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars," Abbott said Friday morning. "The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health."
Abbott permitted bars to reopen for the first time on May 22, at 25% indoor capacity. On June 3, he allowed bars to move to 50% capacity as long as customers are seated.
But cases have climbed rapidly in recent weeks. On Thursday, Texas saw another record number of new cases - 5,996 - as well as hospitalizations - 4,739. The hospitalization number set a record for the 14th straight day. During the increase, Abbott has cited Texas' large hospital capacity and the availability of respirators. But many hospitals in Texas' big cities have reported crowded intensive care units in recent days, and some cities have begun reviving plans to treat patients at convention centers and stadiums.
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'If I could go back:' Gov. Abbott regrets reopening bars during COVID-19