Packed bars serve up new rounds of COVID contagion

Other states have suffered outbreaks

Jordan Rau and Elizabeth Lawrence California Heathline | 7/2/2020, midnight

On its Facebook page, one of the bars sanctioned by the commission, BARge 295 in Seabrook, near Houston, said its license was suspended “for allowing some customers to stand and gather at the bar [S]aturday night (no six foot rule).” The bar, which has been promoting its live music, whole pig roasts and a bikini contest, said it would appeal the action.

“Everyone in the country is aware of the situation and has the ability to think for themselves and decide when and where they want to interact socially,” the bar said in a series of posts. “This BS needs to end now. Come out and support local businesses.”

Other bar owners have found the mandates manageable. Greg Barrineau, who owns a number of bars in the San Antonio area, said he rearranged tables and stools to meet the state’s requirements. “The guidelines are not that hard to follow,” he said. While the state does not require masks, he said the county’s administrative officer and the mayor decided to fine businesses if customers did not wear masks, and most patrons have complied.

J.C. Diaz, president of the American Nightlife Association, which represents bars and clubs, said it has been harder for bars to enforce mask-wearing because it has been so politicized. “The problem now is people are not adhering to the mitigation measures,” he said. “We’re doing what we can do to prevent the spread of COVID, but if you are a reckless guest who doesn’t care about the health of others, you shouldn’t be out.”

Masks alone cannot solve the problem, said Dr. Ray Niaura, interim chair of the epidemiology department at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. The risk of contagion is impossible to eliminate at bars, especially since many infected people are asymptomatic. “Even if you distance tables, you’re still going to have groups of people together,” he said.

Megas, the nursing student, said crowds have not deterred her from planning to return to Houston bars despite the continued spread of the coronavirus. “I’ve studied it enough and I think it’s been going on long enough that I’m really comfortable around it,” she said. “There’s a small part of me that is just like ‘I would like to get it now, while I’m not in school.’”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Jordan Rau: jrau@kff.org, @jordanrau