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Protesters pressure Texas leadership on when and how to reopen more businesses

News

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — While their physical numbers were small, the protesters outside the Texas Capitol each had a clear message to send to state leaders.

Demonstrators gathered at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, in different groups, each calling for a focus on a different aspect of the Texas economy.

The common thread between them: wanting an updated timeline for reopening Texas businesses.

Bars

Janell Wiggins drove three-and-a-half hours from the Brazoria County bar she’s owned for more than two decades to demonstrate outside the Capitol with a handful of others. Bars have not yet been included in Gov. Greg Abbott’s plans to reopen the economy.

“Our hands are tied,” she said. “I feel like our rights have been taken from us.”

“I’ve never shut down more than two consecutive days,” Wiggins said. “They made me close my door on April 15, and and I haven’t been open since.”

Wiggins said she remortgaged her home to pay off her bills for the last two months.

She wants bar owners to have the same rules applied to them as restaurants. Abbott allowed restaurants to reopen at reduced capacity as long as they meet certain social distancing guidelines and follow new state health rules.

“The bars is another area that we want open. We want to open because we know the customers like it, but also we want to open because we know that bar owners desperately need to open up in order for them to have some level of income for them to pay their bills,” Abbott said in a press conference on May 5.

“We are still working on safe ways to establish safe distancing at bars,” Abbott said May 5, citing the nature of bars is to bring people together.

The Texas Restaurant Association is compiling a series of commitments from bars across Texas that wish to reopen by agreeing to a “Texas Bar Promise” similar to its Texas Restaurant Promise that it launched last month. The bar promise consists of guidelines for both businesses and customers focused on sanitation, distancing, hygiene and signage. It has submitted the bar plan to Abbott’s office, in conjunction with the 10-point plan the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance presented to the Governor’s team. The alliance encouraged its members to prepare to reopen as part of Phase II of Abbott’s economic reopening plan on May 18, by participating in “soft reopenings” on May 15.

“They lost about 75,000 jobs overnight, and it’s about a $600 million impact,” restaurant association president and chief executive officer Emily Williams Knight said.

“We’ve really had the benefit of seeing how restaurant reopening is going and taking lessons learned from that and carrying it over into an industry which… it’s really not that different from restaurants,” Kelsey Erickson Streufert, the association’s vice president of government affairs and advocacy, said.

Abbott has previously acknowledged the argument that bars and restaurants could have similar arrangements to limit the number of customers inside and keep patrons far-enough apart to meet distancing guidelines.

“Some bars would be massively large and could easily set up operations that would be able to effectively employ distancing strategies,” Abbott said May 5. “What about small bars? How would you operate that way, in ways that would ensure that you are preventing the transmission of COVID-19?”

Tattoo Shops

Another industry feeling the burden of the shuttered economy is tattoo shops.

A group of roughly two-dozen tattoo artists congregated outside the Capitol Tuesday afternoon.

Elgin’s Remember Me Tattoos shop owner, Tosha Carnes, said the pandemic drained her family’s savings. She’s had to use the money to make sure she and the other artists at the shop have a place to work when it’s time to open.

“We didn’t work as hard as we did to get where we have just to have it all taken away from us,” Carnes said.

She doesn’t understand why Governor Greg Abbott did not include tattoo and piercing shops on his May 8 list.

“We thought for sure we would be lumped in with the hair salons, barbershops and nail salons,” she said.

“All of our needles are single-use, and we clean all of our surfaces,” Carnes explained, citing the protocols that licensed tattoo shops like hers must follow. “We clean all the furniture that is touched by us or a client. We also have an autoclave, an industrial autoclave, that we use to sterilize all of our instruments.”

Multiple emails to the governor’s communications team on this topic this week have not been returned as of this writing.

Too Soon

A group from Indivisible Austin laid body bags out in front of the Governor’s Mansion to send a message that expanding business in the state as communities continue to tackle the pandemic is premature.

“We’re worried about the lives of our fellow Texans,” Lynn Panepinto said. “The bags represent the lives of people that are being lost and the lives that we’re going to continue to lose if our leadership, our governor and our senators do not prioritize people over profits.”

The group is calling on the governor to “listen to medical experts and not cave to pressure to open the state too fast, risking more lives.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified to a Senate panel on Tuesday opening too soon “could turn the clock back.”

If there is a rush to reopen without following guidelines, “my concern is we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” he said.

“The consequences could be really serious,” he explained.

Candy Rodriguez, Julie Karam, Frank Martinez and Andrew Choat contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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