Fort Worth, Texas – The same day Fort Worth closed streets to accommodate the largest crowds the city’s historic Stockyards have seen in months, code compliance officers were having to go door to door, reminding businesses they were under new restrictions on how many people they could have inside.
The new 50% capacity limit will be in place for at least a week under Governor Greg Abbott’s order, until hospitals beds with COVID-19 patients make up 15% or less of the region’s capacity.
Whether the rollback will even be noticeable to customers remains to be seen.
In the Fort Worth Stockyards Friday, Dec. 4, managers told code officers their own distancing protocols already had them well under the new limit.
The city’s director of code compliance, Brandon Bennett, said he believed restaurants during their busiest hours, or stores on weekends leading into Christmas, may start seeing some impact.
He said most stores and restaurants were following guidelines without the need for any enforcement.
“We are not going to write citations, and have the world be a safer place,” he said. “It’s not going to work that way.”
Leaders in Tarrant and Dallas counties have expressed skepticism the new limits will have any noticeable impact on COVID-19 spread.
Other trauma service area regions in the state rolled back capacity earlier in the fall. Amarillo, Lubbock and El Paso all limited capacity in October when hospitalizations trended above 15%.
The percentage of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds has increased by 10% or more since that time.
Chris Palone, owner of The Rail Club Live in Fort Worth, said five TABC officers came to inspect his Fort Worth bar within hours of opening up Friday night.
“We’re literally just trying to survive,” he said.
The Rail Club Live is supposed to close its doors under the new restrictions since alcohol makes up more than 51% of sales.
“They’re shutting everything down this close to Christmas – are you serious?,” Polone said. “I’d rather rot in a jail cell than not be able to give my children the Christmas they deserve.”
Bars that have gotten permits to operate as restaurants can stay open, but they have to drop to 50% capacity.
Polone calls the restrictions arbitrary.
“We did not get a food and beverage permit,” he said. “It makes no sense for this business, nor do we believe that the gross revenue generated by hot dog sales – as opposed to the gross revenue generated by Miller Lites – has anything to do with stopping the spread of COVID-19.”
Code compliance officers in Dallas went door to door speaking with business owners Friday as well.
“Sometimes the businesses are slow in getting the message, so we get out there and educate,” said Jose Ruiz, a supervisor with the Dallas Department of Code Compliance. “We issue the notice.”
The Rail Club Live plans to continue to operate against state orders, no matter the consequences.
“We’re in a position where we’re doomed if we do and doomed if we don’t,” said Polone. “It’s either fight or starve.”