Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley announced bars can reopen at 50% capacity Oct. 14 during a live press conference Oct. 12.
Whitley said he feels comfortable reopening bars while remaining safe. He will be filing the appropriate Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission paperwork this afternoon.
"This decision has been more difficult than some of the others," he said. "There's not just an obvious right or wrong answer. As you're balancing public health, you also have to balance mental health consequences and financial consequences."
Enforcement of the 50% capacity will be left to each city's code compliance departments. However, if violations of the capacity limits endure, the judge said he will be closing bars again.
"If flagrant violation 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," he said.
Residents witnessing establishments breaking guidelines can submit a tip to the TABC by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 888-THE-TABC.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley is leaning toward reopening bars within certain criteria following Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest announcement that bars could reopen in qualifying counties.
Whitley told Community Impact Newspaper he has been in discussions with several city and county officials but will not be making any final decisions until next week. He said his primary concern is to allow businesses to reopen while keeping hospitalization numbers low.
“We need to stay focused on making sure that our hospitals are open and will continue to be able to stay open," Whitley said. "I'm leaning toward opening back up as long as we're under the hospitalization percentage, which we certainly are now. We'll just have to look as we go forward."
According to Abbott's order, qualifying counties must have a COVID-19 hospitalization rate under 15% for county judges to consider reopening bars. Tarrant County’s current hospitalization rate is at 9% as of Oct. 7, according to the county's COVID-19 dashboard.
Although a final decision is expected by Oct. 14, Whitley said he still has to consider several aspects of the governor’s announcement.
“I've got to better understand exactly what [the announcement] means," he said. "It said in there that the county judge is to assist in the enforcement, and I need a pretty clear idea of exactly what that is before I make a decision."
If Whitley moves forward with reopening bars, establishments reopening will have to operate at 50% capacity and adhere to health protocols defined by Abbott’s office. Those include the wearing of facial coverings by bar employees and bar patrons when 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained, or when not eating and drinking.
According to the governor's announcement, outdoor bars will not be subject to an occupancy limit.
“The process that we're using here is the same process I've used all along," Whitley said. "I consult with local elected officials as well as public health [officials], the district attorney, businesses and hospitals. And I'm not going to make a decision without my partners on Commissioners Court. We will try to reach a decision that, for the most part, folks will feel comfortable with."