In direct opposition to health officials’ recommendations and warnings, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Tuesday that will lift all COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions on Texas businesses.
Starting March 10, the new order removes all restrictions imposed by Abbott in previous executive orders delivered last year. Businesses will no longer have to operate at less than 50% capacity as previously required. Nor will there be any state-imposed mandate for Texans to wear masks or facial coverings.
“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott said at a press conference. “Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to be open should be open.”
Among the businesses taking note of the change in policy will be the state’s 30-plus poker clubs. Many of the clubs have managed to keep busy over recent months, attracting players while enforcing mask requirements and observing other safety precautions.
Starting next Wednesday, the nature of those requirements could begin to change. However, it sounds as if, like other Texas businesses, most of the poker clubs will likely hold off altering their protocols. At least initially.
In other words, like a thinking poker player, the clubs don’t appear ready to act too hastily, preferring to gather information first before committing to any changes.
Details of latest order from Gov. Abbott
The governor’s order includes some provisions.
Businesses in Texas counties that experience “high hospitalizations” will revert to previous restrictions. That threshold is crossed when 15% or more of a county’s patients are hospitalized for COVID-19 for seven consecutive days.
Additionally, businesses may still on their own continue to observe capacity limits and/or require employees and patrons to wear face coverings. That said, the order explicitly removes the threat of penalty or jail time for violations of previous COVID-19-related restrictions.
The decision comes when COVID-19-related deaths, hospitalizations and cases continue to be significant in the state.
According to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, 1,632 Texans died from the disease over the past week. The current seven-day rolling average is down from January, when the state was enduring 300 to 400 deaths per day, but exceeds Texas’ previous peak from last summer.
Order to open up state draws questions, criticisms
Texas had more than 50,000 new cases over the last week as well, down from January but again approaching last summer’s highest totals. Meanwhile, positive tests have checked in at a 12.3% clip, a significantly high percentage compared to other states.
The order also arrives just two weeks after Texas endured a historically damaging winter storm in which the governor and other officials earned severe criticism related to the state’s failure to respond adequately to massive power and water outages and food shortages.
Opponents of the order have delivered blunt criticism of the governor’s decision.
“This will kill Texans,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement responding to Abbott’s order. “Our country’s infectious disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down even as we make progress towards vaccinations.”
President Joe Biden also weighed in on Wednesday, characterizing Abbott’s order as a similar decision in Mississippi that was a “big mistake” and an example of “neanderthal thinking”
No rush to change protocols at Texas poker clubs
As noted, most of the 30-plus Texas poker clubs have managed to continue operating. All of those that are open have a number of COVID-19-related precautions in place.
From the clubs we spoke with, Abbott’s order isn’t necessarily going to inspire any dramatic changes to their procedures.
Like other establishments, Rounders Card Club in San Antonio requires face coverings for all employees and players. Temperatures are checked at the door, and cards and chips are frequently sanitized.
With 22 tables, Rounders is one of the largest in the state. A representative reports they currently operate at 75% capacity. On March 10, they’ll move to 100% but will still require masks and observe other safety measures.
The Lodge Poker Club in Round Rock has had all 20 tables open of late, playing nine-handed. They also perform temperature checks and require masks, and do not allow food at the tables.
A representative said the club has no changes planned for next Wednesday. But the staff is currently engaged in discussions about what exactly they’ll do.
It’s a similar story at the Spades Poker Club in Webster, an 18-table club in the Houston metropolitan area.
There, too, the club is requiring masks of everyone who enters. All the tables are in use at present and playing eight-handed. They are also currently discussing the governor’s order, but have no plans to alter their policies as yet.
Thus it’s largely “wait-and-see” mode for those running the Texas poker clubs. As one representative noted, perhaps they’ll start relaxing restrictions in two or three months when vaccine distribution has significantly picked up. But for now, despite the easing of restrictions elsewhere, the games will go on largely as before.