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Bar Owners Sue Texas Gov. Greg Abbott After 2nd Round Of COVID-19 Closures

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Texas is struggling big time with COVID-19.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: More than 91 counties have hit record high numbers in just the past three days. We are now at a point where the virus is spreading so fast, there is little margin for error.

SIMON: That's Governor Greg Abbott, who's declared a statewide mask mandate following other recent measures to try to slow down the coronavirus.

MELISSA LYNN KELLY: We had three hours to totally shut down, and there's no date in sight of when we can reopen.

SIMON: Melissa Lynn Kelly is the owner of Outlaws Longview Bar in Longview, Texas - small city, couple hours drive east of Dallas. Last week, before Texas began to break records of 6,000 new confirmed cases a day, the governor ordered bars closed, as he did in March. Ms. Kelly refused to shut down Outlaws again, so the state suspended her liquor permit.

KELLY: My bar is not the problem at all. We actually went in, cleaned it, put money into all kinds of cleaning supplies - all kinds of things that the CDC said that we were going to have to do, hand sanitizers everywhere you turned around, on every table. Our restrooms were being cleaned every 20 to 30 minutes. All of my people were outside and all on my tables were 6 feet apart. I spent money so that, whether it rained, the sun was out, I could still have my customers out there at the tables 6 feet apart with a covering. Now I'm out all that money. I'm out all that money plus I haven't gotten a SBA loan. I haven't gotten anything from the government - not one penny.

SIMON: Melissa Lynn Kelly has now joined a lawsuit with other bar owners, and they contend that Governor Abbott is unfairly targeting their businesses with this new blanket closure.

KELLY: Governor Abbott is sitting up there in his mansion in Austin, he's not worried about where his next meal is coming from. He's not worried about when his lights are going to be turned off. How fair is that? I have put everything into that bar - everything that I've ever had and everything that I own right now is in that bar. Right now, we are shut down indefinitely. I can't feed my family. I can't pay my bartenders so that they can feed their family. I mean, come on. If you're not going to pass from COVID-19, you're going to starve to death.

SIMON: Melissa Lynn Kelly says she understands the health risks of working during a pandemic. Since March, in Gregg County, where the city of Longview is located, there have been about 400 cases of COVID and more than a dozen deaths.

KELLY: I know that people have lost their lives and I hate that for them for their families. But you know what? COVID - you know, it's always going to be here. It's not going anywhere. So instead of shutting us down, we need to find a way to take the precautions so that everybody's safe and everybody can still make a living.

SIMON: Melissa Lynn Kelly, owner of Outlaws Longview Bar in East Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "THERE'S NO END") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.