At midnight Thursday, a city-wide mandate in Fort Worth will take effect including the closure of bars, taverns, and dine-in services at restaurants.
"Who would have thought last Thursday we would be in this position?" Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said at a joint press conference Wednesday. "The act that we took a couple of days ago with a little bit less limitations was to allow businesses to scale back. Public health people were advising us that 24 to 48 hours was not going to damage anyone."
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The emergency declaration signed as of Thursday in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people in a single space, at the same time. It closes dine-in service at restaurants, micro-breweries, micro-distilleries and wineries. It allows take-out, drive-in, drive-thru or delivery service to continue.
It also closes bars, lounges, taverns, private clubs, theaters, gyms and other amusement businesses
Price said she recognized the measure would be a large setback for businesses in Fort Worth's service industry. Jon Bonnell of Bonnell's Restaurant Group said they made the difficult decision to let go 200 workers this week.
"I’ll be honest. I never though I’d see a day that from Dallas to Fort Worth, there’s not a single server, bartender or a host. Anywhere," Bonnell said, fighting back tears. "The best thing we could do for them is to terminate them immediately so they can at least file for unemployment benefits as fast as possible. We don’t have work for anybody anymore."
Bonnell said he, in conjunction with about 120 other restaurants in Fort Worth, have been communicating with Price's office about the impact of restaurant closures amid coronavirus concerns.
Four concept restaurants operate under Bonnell's Restaurant Group: two Buffalo Brothers locations, Bonnell's Fine Texas Mexican Cuisine and Water's Restaurant. They will offer takeout at Buffalo Brothers with no beverage service, while Water's will transition to curb-side pick-up only as of Saturday.
"We’ll be offering complete meals for four people for 40 days. Pick up from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and hopefully, our own employees can supplement their meals with that. That’s all we got," he said. "I don’t think the city really needs fine dining at this point. We’ve decided to just abandon the concepts and go just towards a family meal replacement, I think. We’re more of a community service role at this point."
Restaurateur Tim Love told NBC 5, he was forced to let go of about 350 workers from his company this week. As of Wednesday, all of his places are closed.
"I’ve maintained to keep my full management staff, guaranteed them payment over the next six weeks, so I can maintain their benefits, which I think is important, but the hourly staff – all I can do is make sure they get fed, and that’s what I’m trying to do," Love said. "We’ve dedicated ourselves to give meals, lunch and dinner here at my office. Pull up your car, we’ll have a tent starting Monday. Do it Monday through Friday until this is over with."
The emergency declaration also limits total occupancy to 125 people or 50% of the capacity on the certificate of occupancy, whichever is less. This applies to event centers, hotel meeting spaces and ballrooms, retail sales and services, convenience stores, plazas, places of worships, common areas in malls and businesses in malls.
It does not apply to grocery stores, government facilities, residential buildings, medical facilities, daycares, homeless and emergency shelters, nonprofit service providers, airports and office buildings.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said though the restrictions were not a universal ban across the county for each city, they were "strong recommendations".
The tightened restrictions come a day after an Arlington man who died Sunday was confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19. The man was a resident of the Texas Masonic Home in Arlington and Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday afternoon that all of the residents of the home would now be tested for exposure.
As of this writing, there are currently eight cases of COVID-19 in Tarrant County with one death. Across North Texas, there are 67 confirmed cases of the virus with two deaths.
Both Bonnell and Love said, they believed the decision on restaurants was responsible, no matter how hard it has been and will be on their industry.
"It happened so fast, I don’t think any of us know how to react, but it’s for public health and for society as a whole. It’s definitely what we need to do," Bonnell said. "This virus is for real. It’s not overblown. For anybody out there posting on Facebook – 'hey, this isn’t any worse for the flu, what’s the big?' Listen to the doctors. Trust me. You’re wrong on that. This is the right move. As hard it is, we have to do it."
A list to restaurants offering curbside and delivery service can be found here.
Coronavirus Cases in Texas
Locations on the map are approximate county locations and are not intended to identify where any infected people live.
Case data pulled from a variety of sources including county health departments, Texas Department of State Health Services, KXAN-TV in Austin and KPRC-TV in Houston.