AUSTIN, Texas (KMID) – It’s been about 30 days since bars were ordered to close their doors, and restaurants were forced to scale back on capacity restrictions.

Gov. Greg Abbott made the difficult decision back on June 26 after case numbers began to rise significantly. It was an open-ended decision and one of the first measures taken by Gov. Abbott to try and slow the spread of COVID-19 in Texas.

“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,” said Governor Abbott back in June. “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars. The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health. We want this to be as limited in duration as possible. However, we can only slow the spread if everyone in Texas does their part. Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay six feet apart from others in public, and stay home if they can. I know that our collective action can lead to a reduction in the spread of COVID-19 because we have done it before, and we will do it again.”

Around that time, about 5,000 new cases were being confirmed each day, amounting to about a 2,000 case increase from prior weeks.

As we approach the end of July, stats show that June proved to be the tipping point for the COVID-19 surge in Texas.

But were bars and patrons really to blame?

Fast forward about a month and the state-wide picture looks drastically different.

The positivity rate is hovering around 15 percent, and new daily case numbers are at about 10,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Couple that with rising hospitalization rates and COVID-19 related deaths and it might seem hard to make a case to reopen bars and expand restaurant capacity.

Local numbers today, look very similar to the state-wide data. Daily case numbers remain high, virus-related deaths have spiked, and hospitals are filling up their COVID units, according to reports from Midland and Ector County.

However, the Permian Basin has found itself in a different position from other areas of Texas, and indeed the country. While everyone has faced the Coronavirus pandemic, few have seen the backbone of their economy plummet like oil has in the Permian Basin. And it was a swift shift.

Prior to the pandemic and before the oil market took a nosedive, West Texas touted one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. But that seems like ages ago as the Permian Basin now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, according to Odessa Mayor David Turner.

Since the pandemic began, state and local leaders have said their goal is to keep the economy moving. Indeed, Gov. Abbott has blatantly stated that shutting down the economy was a last resort option.

But, for local bar owners, it was a slightly different story.

Owners were forced to close their doors to paying customers, while nearly all other businesses were allowed to remain open.

Some owners protested the order, saying the Governor’s orders singled out bars and restaurants, when other businesses like game rooms, gentleman’s clubs, massage parlors and more could keep their doors open.

Some have challenged the Governor’s orders, opting to remain open to protect their livelihoods. During the first shutdown in Texas, Gabrielle Ellison, who owns Big Daddy Zane’s in Odessa, defied the order and was arrested by the Ector County Sheriff’s Office.

Despite her arrest, Ellison said she had no choice but to defy the Governor’s orders again, openly voicing her displeasure with the state government interfering with her business.

However, even with bars shut down, case numbers are still climbing. Hospitalizations are still on the rise and sadly, deaths are as well. So, were bars really to blame, or is it time to reopen?

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