Texas bars, bowling alleys, skating rinks and even some strips clubs are set to reopen over the Memorial Day weekend as the state continues to gradually restart one of the world's largest economies after it was ravaged by shutdowns caused by the coronavirus epidemic.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this week ordered further easing of some state restrictions that had shuttered many venues for more than a month. On Friday, the Texas Workforce Commission reported the state reached 12.8 percent unemployment in April, the highest monthly level since the state began recording the figures in January 1976.
The thud of bowling balls and clank of pins filled the air of Emerald Bowl in Houston's Alief neighborhood Friday. "I missed it, it's nice to have people here," said Steve Hofer, the alley's general manager."
Hofer said he can accommodate up to 100 bowlers, which is 25 percent capacity. While patrons were not required to wear masks, bowling employees wore them.
Chance Ellis, 24, of Houston said he felt reassured by safety measures being implemented at Emerald Bowl. He and his friends traded jibes over beers and a few frames.
Thirty-nine-year-old Don Nguyen was happy to be at the lanes working out the rust in his bowling game. "I was doing two leagues before corona hit and I miss bowling in general and so it's to be able to come back out to throw a few balls get some practice in," Nguyen said.
Bars, breweries and tasting rooms will also be allowed to open at 25 percent capacity and with other social distancing measures in place. Several strip clubs have said they will also reopen with some requiring the entertainers to wear masks.
Rodeos, bingo halls and aquariums also can reopen. Restaurants, which were allowed to reopen May 1 at 25% customer capacity, can now run at 50%, although many are pushing to be allowed to serve more.
Texas has reported nearly 52,500 cases of COVID-19 with 1,440 deaths. The state reported 945 new cases and 21 new deaths on Thursday.
Abbott has noted increased testing in Texas, a rate of infection that has steadily hovered around 5 percent, and available hospital space as reasons to gradually reopen, and the governor has been steadily rolling back restrictions. That has led some Democratic leaders in the state's largest cities to question whether it is happening too fast, while some business leaders say it's not quick enough.
The Texas Restaurant Association said this week the rollout was too slow and threatened to close some restaurants for good. The group projects it could lose as many as 30 percent of Texas' estimated 50,000 restaurants.