Businesses in Fort Worth got a big boost Wednesday as they try to comply with a new mask mandate in Tarrant County.
“The mandate that businesses require their customers to wear masks on their location is all about public health. And it's all about trying to keep our economy open. And so, we saw an immediate need where people might not have masks,” said Jarratt Watkins, director of Fort Worth Now.
The new strike force to get businesses back on their feet joined the city of Fort Worth, Visit Fort Worth, Fort Worth Now, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce to provide 250,000 free masks to businesses.
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The mask distribution took place at eight locations Wednesday morning, and businesses were allowed to pick up a maximum of 250 masks. from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. at eight locations.
George Pavlick with Pavlick Construction Company said he stopped by more than one location before he was finally able to pick some up at the East Regional Library.
“We work for Spectrum Communications and we’re in the attics and people’s houses and stuff and when you’re going to a person’s house you have to wear a mask,” Pavlick said. “I want to keep the guys protected, you know?”
Pavlick added, the pandemic was not something he was taking lightly.
“This is nothing to play with. I’ve had my lung removed and put back in. I’ve had a kidney transplant, triple bypass. I’m not playing with it. A lot of people, they think it’s a hoax. I’m not going to play Russian roulette with my life,” he said. “I just think it’s very important you pay attention to what’s being told. I mean, wear your mask, keep your distance, you know? Change them frequently.”
Last Thursday, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley signed an order mandating all businesses to require both workers and visitors to wear face coverings when inside. The order is in effect through 6 a.m. on Aug. 3 and also applies to outdoor gatherings.
Johnny Powell is the general manager at Centre in Fort Worth. The store along Magnolia Avenue did not pick up any masks from the city Wednesday, though Powell said they already have plans in place to offer ones to customers.
Overall, Powell said compliance has not been an issue.
“The Dallas location has them [masks] to provide today and we will have them to provide at this location tomorrow,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, if you ship off an order, you still have to pay for the box. So, if you have to put a mask on your customer so they can shop… I mean, it’s just another business expense.”
Watkins said they’re working with the city to see if they can purchase another set of masks for future distribution. He said believed about 1,000 businesses were assisted on Wednesday.
“Our thought was, if we can work quickly, we can get masks in the hands of businesses, so that if they have a customer that wants to come in, come into their shop or restaurant that doesn't have a mask, they'll then have some to provide that customer," Watkins said. "It will also help provide masks to employees as well. Because I think it'll be essential to make sure employees and customers can all feel safe in the environment."
Watkins is a lawyer with expertise in business. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price tapped him to be the director of Fort Worth Now and serve as the staff person to a coalition of about two dozen business and civic leaders. Watkins agreed to leave his job at Kelly, Hart and Hallman to serve as director for the next year.
“I feel like I’ve been drinking water from the firehose. We've definitely been working a lot, trying to move as quickly as possible. One of our benefits as a smaller organization is to hopefully be nimble and be responsive and be quick. So I think this mask program shows that,” Watkins said. “Our goal is to augment and assist organizations doing great work such as the chambers of commerce. And then after a short period, after we've helped stabilize and restore our local businesses and hopefully, done some great work on trying to add new businesses and bring new people to our community, we'll be able to hand this project back over to the chambers and I can go back to being a lawyer.“