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COVID-19: Dallas, Houston to Close Bars, Restaurants

Restaurants in Dallas and Harris counties for now may remain open for drive-through, takeout and delivery, but dine-in service will be prohibited.

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Dallas and Houston follow some of the country's other big cities in shutting down bars and restaurants for dine-in service. Photo credit: Tamir Kalifa for The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Nightlife in two of America’s largest cities is shut down for at least the next week in an aggressive attempt to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, the mayors of Dallas and Houston announced Monday afternoon.

The move comes after a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday to cease all gatherings of 50 or more people in the coming eight weeks. On Monday morning, the nation’s largest cities — including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — announced similar measures.

“What we all recognize is that it’s important for us to operate in unanimity as much as possible,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson ordered the closing of all Dallas bars, lounges, taverns, nightclubs, gyms and health clubs, theaters, music venues, and entertainment establishments such as arcades and billiard halls.

In Houston’s Harris County, only bars were ordered to close, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced.

Restaurants in both Dallas and Harris County for now may remain open for drive-through, takeout and delivery, but dine-in service will be prohibited.

The regulations are a massive blow to local businesses that depend heavily on in-person patronage.

“As of right now, Dallas has the most aggressive rules of all the major cities in Texas for minimizing and slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Johnson said at a press conference, minutes before Houston leaders announced similar plans.

In Houston, the new rules go into effect at 8 a.m. Tuesday and will last for at least 15 days. The Dallas shutdown starts before midnight Monday and will last at least a week.

A hotline to report overcrowding will be set up Tuesday, said Laurie Christensen, Harris County fire marshal.

Officers from the fire marshal and sheriff’s offices will go around the city to make sure businesses are notified of the regulation and are in compliance, Christensen said.

Although citation isn’t the goal, those who don’t comply risk a citation of up to $2,000, Christensen said.

As of Monday at noon, Dallas and Harris counties were among the top three counties with the most coronavirus cases in the state. There were at least eight coronavirus cases in Dallas County, which has seen community spread, and at least 10 cases in Harris County, according to state and CDC data.

“I understand the pain this decision will create,” Johnson said. “Dallas has a robust and diverse economy that has grown in recent years. We have world-class event venues, theaters, and entertainment options. I love to tell people from out of town that Dallas is the reigning Bon Appetit Restaurant City of the Year.

“We are proud of our service industry and our vibrant, diverse economy. But this is the time when we have to focus on the greatest asset we have: our people and our communities,” he added.

Asked if Dallas is considering a curfew, Johnson said city officials are not actively looking at implementing one right now, but he “can’t say that any tool is not on the table.”

The Dallas emergency regulations, which also included prohibiting community gatherings of more than 50 people, will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Johnson said.

Sami Sparber contributed to this story.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Stacy Fernández is the Tribune’s breaking news reporter. When she isn’t breaking stories, Stacy leads the Tribune’s reader-driven explainer series, Texplainer. First introduced to the Lone Star state as an intern at The Dallas Morning News, she was also a News21 fellow, reporter for NPR’s Next Generation Radio Project and Buffalo News intern. Stacy graduated from Syracuse University with dual degrees in magazine journalism and Latino-Latin American studies. The Afro-Dominicana thrifts frequently, is a solid bachata dancer and is a firm believer that listening to audiobooks is just as good as reading.

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march 2020

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