The pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to the global economy. But to restaurants and bars the threat is nothing short of existential. A recent survey released by Yelp queried some 24,000 establishments that had shuttered during the coronavirus lockdown. Shockingly, it found that more than half—a full 53%—will be shuttered permanently. Things were looking a touch more promising in early June, when most states across the country began a measured reopen of restaurants and bars. But an alarming surge in new cases prompted large states like Texas and Florida to reassess.
The pause button was hit in Texas last Friday when Governor Gregg Abbott was faced with the grim prospect of becoming the viruses latest epicenter. “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,” he 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.”
Any outpost that collects majority of its income from alcohol sales was given until noon on the 26th to closeup shop. Takeout and delivery sales are still allowed. As for restaurants throughout the Lone Star State, they’ll have to cap capacity at 50%—a potentially crippling reality for an industry that often operates at razor thin margins.
Some local business owners feel as though this fate could have been avoided. Michael Neff who runs the Cottonmouth Club—an award-winning cocktail lounge in Houston—had already shut down voluntarily before Abbott’s end of week edict. He appeared on local news on Thursday evening lamenting the lack of strong leadership demonstrated by the government. The full clip can be seen below:
Then there’s Florida, where 32,000 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in just the past week alone. Governor Ron DeSantis has been a vocal proponent of resuming the normalcy of a pre-coronavirus era. But even he couldn’t deny a rapidly deteriorating public health criss. After calling on his Secretary of Department of Business and Professional Regulation to cease all on-premise consumption of alcohol statewide, he held a press conference on Friday afternoon.
“People weren’t following [the suggested practices],” the governor said. “There was widespread noncompliance, and that led to issues. If folks just follow the guidelines, we’re going to be in good shape. When you depart from that, then it becomes problematic.”
This is hardly limited to Texas and Florida. Across the country a growing band of Americans are flouting CDC recommendations, including mask-wearing and social distancing measures. As they do—and where they do—COVID cases are rising dramatically. While it is challenging to adhere to such guidelines within the confines of establishments dedicated to food and drink consumption, it is not impossible. The circumstances of this weekend demonstrate that if people are unwilling to try, they can also expect local bars to remain shuttered, indefinitely.