From the early days of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, states have wrestled with the best course of action for the nation's imperiled bars and nightclubs. Many of these businesses find their economic prospects tied to a virus that preys on their industry's lifeblood — social gatherings in tight quarters.
Public health experts and top health officials, including the Dr. Tony Fauci, say the evidence is abundantly clear: When bars open, infections tend to follow.
Some states moved quickly to shutter bars early in the pandemic for months or longer, keeping them entirely closed or open only under strict conditions. Many other states moved to reopen bars on a faster timeline — only to shut them down again as viral case counts rebounded this summer.
"We're big targets. It's just wrong," says Steve Smith, whose Nashville, Tenn., businesses include honky-tonks that serve alcohol and cater to tourists.
But some legal experts say public health authorities have broad power to close down any business they deem to be particularly dangerous.