Will crowds return like they did at MASS and other venues back in 2017, when this pic was taken? Courtesy of Facebook

Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has lifted restrictions, some local venue owners are still not sure how to proceed. Most of the ones I talked to want to open but also want to remain safe. Ryan Higgs, co-owner of MASS on the Near Southside, sees the problem clearly. 

“Once again, [Abbott] has put the burden of policing the public on individual bar owners,” Higgs said. “If you maintain a mask order at your business, you will have to argue with patrons at every turn. If you allow maskless patrons, you are not doing the public any favors.”

Since bars have been struggling under the previous COVID restrictions, Higgs believes many won’t be able to throw open their doors fast enough

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Mayor Betsy Price issued a statement without recommending masks or social distancing, the two forms of combating the virus that have kept hospital beds from filling up. 

“Normalcy is on the horizon,” she said, “but it is so important to keep in mind we are not out of the woods just yet. Personal responsibility remains key, and I continue to encourage residents of Fort Worth to do the same thing I have encouraged for the last year — support your community by doing all you can to keep yourself and those around you safe.”

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson was not nearly as wishy-washy. 

“The people of Dallas should continue to mask up and take precautions to slow COVID-19’s spread and mutations,” he said in a statement. “We are getting closer to achieving herd immunity, and now is not the time to let down our guard. Vaccines, masks, and social distancing are the best tools we have for fighting this virus, which has claimed far too many lives in the last year.”

That number includes nearly 2,900 Tarrant County residents, 43,000 Texans, and half a million Americans

Only about 6.5% of Texans have received the vaccine, ranking Texas in the lowest percentile of the country. The timing is not good for us Fort Worthians specifically. On Tuesday, COVID hospitalizations increased for the first time in eight days in Tarrant County. 

New cases and deaths may have declined over the past month, but the new variants may strike at any moment. 

Brooks Kendall, who runs the entertainment at The Post at River East, said it will take some time before the Post is ready to make any changes.

“I didn’t expect [reopening] to come this soon,” he said. “We don’t know yet what changes we will make. We’ll be consulting with staff and customers over the next week to get a feel for what our people are comfortable with. We will likely remain on the safe side, but I imagine it will be hard to enforce safety measures under certain circumstances when we can no longer blame the governor’s orders.”

Brian Forella, owner of Lola’s Trailer Park and the adjacent Lola’s Saloon, is not ready to make any changes, either. “It’s going to be a clusterfuck in the short term. Still have to talk to the staff before I comment. Want a united front.”

What Abbott has done is lift restrictions on masks and social distancing, saying businesses can open at 100% occupancy despite the science.

“Every time Gov. Greg Abbott rushes to open the state, things end up getting worse,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director at the liberal group Progress Texas. “We all want things to get back to normal, but Abbott’s inability to lead harms the state’s response to the pandemic just as it harmed that state’s response to the Texas freeze. We shouldn’t have to fill ICU beds in order to fulfill Abbott’s political agenda. Texans must continue to take COVID-19 seriously and wear masks as the pandemic is far from over.”

Filling up beds seems to be Abbott’s plan, probably to make President Joe Biden look bad, arguing in his statement that vaccines and “antibody therapy drugs” are good enough to protect everyone — or else why would we open at 100% — from the novel coronavirus. 

“Make no mistake,” the governor goes on to say, “COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed. Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”

Oh, boy. Did you hear that? There goes that word again: “freedom.” In this case, Abbott does not understand that that “freedom” is the “freedom” to infect other people with a deadly virus. — Anthony Mariani