After a grueling seven-month shutdown, bars in Fort Worth are now allowed to reopen, thanks to a decree from Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley.
Bars in Fort Worth and across Tarrant County will be able to reopen at 50 percent capacity. The first day they can open is October 14, per state order.
At a press conference on October 12, the judge said he'd consulted with local politicians and business owners and concluded that Tarrant County could handle a reopening.
"I talked to mayors in the cities around Tarrant County, I talked to bar owners and citizens and other folks, and I feel comfortable right now that we can do this and still be safe," Whitley said.
One key factor in his decision was occupancy at hospitals.
"We have said from the very beginning that the focus is on making sure our hospitals remain open," Whitley said. "I've had conversations with hospital CEOs and they all feel comfortable with the decision I've made."
Whitley said that if the number of patients that are positive for COVID-19 exceeds 15 percent of hospital capacity, then bars would have to shut back down.
He emphasized that Tarrant County residents would be required to remain vigilant, continue to wear masks, and social distance, and bars must follow state guidelines or risk being shut down again.
"If flagrant violations of the occupancy requirements are ignored or COVID cases make up more than 15 percent of our Tarrant County hospital capacity, I won't hesitate to close bars," Whitley said.
Some bars over the weekend of October 10-11 allegedly reopened illegally, and Whitley said those scenarios were under investigation.
"I assure you I am working on that," he said. "We have questions about some videos we've seen from the weekend, and we've had conversations with TABC. It's possible their license will be suspended today or tomorrow."
Whitley's announcement follows the October 7 order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who gave permission for bars to reopen across the state, but left the ultimate decision to individual counties. Collin County opted to reopened bars; Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins opted against.
"There's not an obvious right or wrong," Whitley said. "We have to balance public health and mental health and the financial consequences of being closed all this time. We've wanted to reopen businesses as quickly as we could. It was a tough decision, especially as we saw some bars who reopened as restaurants. A lot of bars have done what we've asked them to do and stayed closed and not tried to fit through a loophole. The only ones getting penalized are those who really tried to do what we asked them to do."