FORT WORTH, Texas - The Tarrant County cities of Fort Worth and Arlington have ordered restaurants and bars to close to combat the pandemic.
While the two cities made that mandate, which allows take-out and drive-through orders, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court only requested that restaurants and bars across the county close, but have not mandated it.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price was joined by Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who has not issued a countywide ordinance at this point, but is urging all 41 cities in Tarrant County to follow suit. Whitley said it’s important there’s consistency across the entire county.
Everyone attending Wednesday’s news conference had to have their temperature checked before they were let inside commissioner’s court.
Effective 12:01 a.m. Thursday, all restaurants in Fort Worth have to close their dining rooms, but they can still offer takeout and delivery. All bars, lounges, taverns, clubs, theaters, and gyms must close.
Arlington announced its declaration Wednesday evening.
“Let’s think about taking care of our neighbors,” said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams. “That’s something we can do with our phone, and with our emails and be checking on people. See if they need help.”
But Judge Whitley is not on the same page with the two largest cities in Tarrant County.
Although Tarrant county issued a public health emergency which limits the size of gatherings to 50 people and restricts restaurants and bars to 50 percent occupancy with up to 125 people, it is not mandating the similar closures Fort Worth and Arlington are.
Whitley did not specifically address why he is not following their leads.
“Understand that within Tarrant County we have 41 cities,” he said. “Nine of those have their own emergency operation plan. And then we have the county plan.”
A restaurant owner who spoke at the news conference supported the order.
“As hard as it’s been for all of us to close our businesses, this was the right decision and we applaud the decision that you’ve made even though it’s the most difficult thing we’ve ever seen,” John Bonnell said.
Public gatherings are limited to no more than 50 people in a single space, at a time.
“Think about what you’re doing. This has to be a regional approach,” Price said. “People travel back and forth between all areas and we want everybody to be safe. Nothing that we’ve done as the mayors or the judge and the commissioners has been done lightly.”
Mayor Price said the occupancy limits don’t apply to grocery stores, government or medical facilities, residential or office buildings, daycares, shelters, industrial locations, airports, or other critical infrastructure.
Event spaces and churches must limit capacity to 125 people or 50 percent of occupancy.
City code compliance officers will enforce the order.
The Fort Worth City Council will meet Thursday to discuss how long this emergency declaration should remain in place.
“We will likely be directing code and fire to focus on enforcing social distancing in high traffic areas, such as big box grocery stores,” Price said.
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The move comes after Dallas County and the city of Dallas made the same move for dine-in restaurants and bars. Fort Worth officials were criticized on social media for not acting quickly enough to enact efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.
So far, Tarrant County has limited the maximum number of people in an establishment but has not gone as far as Dallas County yet.
Tarrant County did extend its emergency declaration from the original 7 days to 90 days, allowing the county to take further actions.