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Bell County bars could close soon as COVID-19 hospitalizations near state's limit

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Posted at 10:24 PM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-04 23:24:30-05

BELL COUNTY, TX — In October, Governor Greg Abbott set a limit for counties when it comes to COVID-19 hospitalizations. If an area saw the number COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of total hospital capacity exceed 15 percent, certain rollbacks would commence.

Those rollbacks include limiting businesses to 50% capacity, canceling elective surgeries and closing bars.

As of Monday, the hospitalization rate in Bell County has been above 15% for the past several days.

“We have hit the governor's threshold. Now certain businesses, restaurants, retail stores, office buildings will now have to lower their occupancy levels from 75% to 50%,” explained Bell County Judge David Blackburn.

The current rate is around 21%, which also means dozens of local bars will have to close their doors again.

“Those will be required to close under the governor’s order. I have spoken with TABC today [Monday]. TABC advised me there at 43 of those establishments in Bell County,” said Judge Blackburn.

Judge Blackburn says the closure only applies to establishments where more than 51% of their sales come from alcohol. For watering holes like Tank’s Pub, it means closing for a third time during the pandemic.

“My employees are gonna be gone. They close it, my employees are gonna be gone because I can’t open. What jobs are they gonna have?” said owner Cruz Ochoa.

With the spike in hospitalizations during the holidays, many feel there are several factors, but it’s only the bars being singled out.

“I don’t understand. I don’t understand why our city councilmen and our mayors are not looking into these things. What support do we have? Not much. I don’t think we’re the cause of COVID-19. I think they need to look elsewhere and find out where the majority is coming from,” said Ochoa.

Judge Blackburn says he’s waiting to receive an official notice from the state later this week before the changes take effect.

Bell County is now the 15th of the 22 trauma services areas in the state to record a high hospitalization rate and make changes.