By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer, Video by Grace Smith | Broadcast Reporter
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton announced Tuesday the county would reopen bars to 50% capacity the following day, giving them the opportunity to claim a cashflow that’s been steadily streaming out the door for months.
Felton said many bars in McLennan County started to serve food so they could be considered restaurants and stay open during the pandemic. However, not all bars had the capability to serve food, so they had to close.
“People should have the opportunity to operate if they can do it under protocols that do not cause a public safety issue,” Felton said. “And I’m not sure they can, but I think they all should have the opportunity to try.”
Felton released a statement explaining how he and the Commissioners’ Court arrived at the decision to reopen bars.
“I received input from the Commissioners Court at today’s meeting which unanimously favored opting-in,” Felton said the statement.
In the end, the decision to reopen bars is up to the county judge, but Felton said he values his colleagues’ input, and wanted to be sure he was making the right decision.
“I also heard information from our Local Health Authority that indicated that the normal way bars operate would lead him to an opposite conclusion. However, the Minimum Standard Protocols, if followed, should relieve those concerns to a significant extent,” Felton said in a statement.
Even though the Local Health Authority advised against bars reopening, Felton said he wants to support businesses and help the economy.
“If there’s an indication that some bars aren’t compliant and there is a lot of origination of virus transfers within those bars, then I will reconsider my order,” Felton said. “And we could possibly opt-out just like we opted-in.”
The Local Health Authority warned against reopening bars because people tend to hang out in bars longer than restaurants, which would possibly lead to anyone infected with the virus to spread it to more people, Felton said.
Felton said he agrees with the Local Health Authority on the possible dangers of reopening bars, but most people going to bars are not in the high risk category.
“If you calculate the risk, I mean, the chance of someone dying from COVID is pretty low, although it’s much higher than the flu and other things,” Felton said.
Ryan Webster, owner of The Buckle, said in a Lariat TV News interview that being able to open after losing thousands of dollars is a huge deal.
“Our bartenders will be very careful,” Webster said. “We’re going to be completely digital. We’re not using any cash at all … We’re sanitizing the entire bar every night, every day.”
The owner of the pub Scruffy Murphy’s, Kevin McBride, said in an LTVN interview that the bar is technically a restaurant now, so they can stay open in case bars get closed down again.
“I’m really happy to just be open and to just get going,” McBride said. “It’s been a long year of just not really working and not really trying to come up with just different projects throughout the year to keep me busy and keep the place busy or try to get any sort of income coming into this place.”
Despite opening bars for the sake of the economy, Felton advised people to continue to be cautious when considering going out to socialize.
“I don’t suggest [people] go to bars,” Felton said. “I do suggest that bars have the opportunity to be part of commerce.”