It’s been more than five months since the first case of COVID-19 appeared in North Texas. Since then, DFW-area bars, restaurants and kitchens have struggled to endure the often conflicting guidelines, changing rules issued by the state, and economic insecurity caused by the global pandemic. From an premature reopening to a backtracking from Texas Governor Greg Abbott that re-closed bars after less than a month, it’s been a tough year for the Metroplex’s food and drink industry.
Because it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything that’s happened in the Dallas restaurant scene since the beginning of March, use this comprehensive timeline as a guide to how (and when) the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the city and state.
COVID-19 comes to Texas
March 4, 2020 – A Fort Bend man tests positive for COVID-19, becoming the first case in Texas. The man had recently returned from traveling abroad.
March 9, 2020 — The first case of COVID-19 is confirmed in North Texas. The patient is a Frisco man in his 30s who had recently traveled to California on a business trip, where he was unknowingly exposed to another person with COVID-19. The Frisco man’s wife and three-year-old daughter also test positive.
March 13, 2020 — Texas Governor Greg Abbott declares a statewide emergency as coronavirus cases across the state begin to rise.
North Texas grapples with how to prevent spread of coronavirus
March 13, 2020 — Dallas officials cancel the annual Greenville Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which typically brings a crowd of more than 125,000 people to the neighborhood.
March 16, 2020 — Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson requires restaurants and bars in the city to close their dining rooms.
March 17, 2020 — Texas Health and Human Services confirms the state’s first Covid-19 death, a Matagorda County man in his 90s, on March 15.
March 18, 2020 — Abbott signs a waiver allowing restaurants to sell alcohol to-go for the first time ever, so long as it is served with food.
March 18, 2020 — Several DFW-area suburbs order bars and restaurants to close temporarily to stop the spread of the virus. Restaurants begin to pivot to takeout.
March 19, 2020 — Dallas County records its first COVID-19 death, a Richardson man in his 60s.
March 19, 2020 — Abbott issues an executive order closing bars and restaurants across the state through April 3.
March 22, 2020 — Dallas County issues its first stay-at-home order.
March 23, 2020 — Tarrant County issues its first stay-at-home order.
March 31, 2020 — Abbott tells Texans to stay at home except for essential activity.
March 31, 2020 — As grocery store shelves go bare of essential items, Dallas officials urge residents who can to stay away from grocery stores at the beginning of the month so that those on food assistance programs can buy what they need.
Texas eyes reopening
April 17, 2020 — Abbott forms a strike force to help create a plan to reopen Texas, including business leaders, restaurant owners and other Texas dignitaries.
April 18, 2020 — Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins requires residents to wear face coverings in public, including restaurants.
April 20, 2020 — A service industry group called Shift Dallas pleads with Greg Abbott to provide basic protections for service industry workers.
April 21, 2020 — Colleyville mayor Richard Newton announces his intention to defy Abbott’s still-in-effect restaurant closure by allowing Colleyville restaurants to open their patios. Crowds pack those patios upon their reopening.
Restaurants reopen, battles ensue over masking orders
May 1, 2020 — Restaurants throughout Texas are allowed to reopen at 25% capacity. Still, many Dallas-area restaurant owners express concern that it is too soon.
May 5, 2020 — Dallas County issues a mask mandate.
May 8, 2020 — A secret shopper investigation funded by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban finds that 96% of Dallas businesses, including restaurants, are not complying with reopening guidelines.
May 8, 2020 — A Texas judge issues an injunction against Hillstone Restaurant Group saying that it can not prevent employees from wearing masks while on the clock. Eventually there will be several statewide arguments about who can, and can’t, require residents and employees to wear masks.
May 11, 2020 — Dallas County District Judge Clay Jenkins clarifies that the county CAN require restaurant employees to wear masks while working.
May 19, 2020 — Dallas chef Tim Love joins other restaurant industry honchos at the White House to ask President Donald Trump to extend the Payroll Protection Program.
May 20, 2020 — The city of Dallas announces a new program that will allow restaurants to build “parklets” to increase their outdoor dining space.
Bars reopen, George Floyd protests begin
May 22, 2020 — Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Abbott allows Texas bars to reopen at 25% capacity. Restaurants can increase to 50% capacity. Some Dallas bars make plans to reopen at midnight.
Uptown bar Harris’ House of Heroes is shut down twice in one week over occupancy violations. Deep Ellum is packed with partygoers.
May 26, 2020 — Abbott allows food courts within shopping malls to reopen.
May 26, 2020 — Amidst the pandemic, economic insecurity and other compounding issues, protests break out across the country following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by Minneapolis police. Those protests spread to Deep Ellum, where restaurant workers and other businesses express solidarity with the movement.
June 3, 2020 — Texas bars are allowed to increase capacity to 50%.
June 3, 2020 — Abbott bans local governments from enforcing face mask orders.
June 12, 2020 — Texas restaurants are allowed to increase capacity to 75%.
June 19, 2020 — Abbott allows amusement parks to reopen at 50% capacity.
June 19, 2020 — The Dallas County Commissioners Court issued an order requiring businesses to refuse entry to patrons who are not wearing masks, including restaurants. Dallas diners show little effort to social distance.
June 22, 2020 — As cases surge throughout Texas following the Memorial Day reopening of bars, Gov. Abbott holds a press conference in which he says “COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas.” Still, he says, “closing down Texas again will always be the last option.”
June 22, 2020 — Three DFW-area bars, including Harris’ House of Heroes, are slapped with liquor law violations for failing to maintain capacity limits.
Gov. Greg Abbott walks back reopening plan
June 25, 2020 — Abbott pauses his Reopen Texas plan as COVID-19 cases spike across the state.
June 26, 2020 — Abbott forces Texas bars to close again, and restaurants to drop to 50% capacity. Abbott says he regrets allowing bars to reopen so soon. “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.”
June 26, 2020 — Tarrant County requires masks in all indoor businesses, including restaurants.
June 28, 2020 — Abbott issues a special waiver that allows Texas bars to sell pre-mixed drinks to go as a way to offset the losses incurred from bars being closed to the public.
July 2, 2020 — After initial resistance to counties doing the same, Abbott establishes a statewide face covering requirement.
July 7, 2020 — The State Fair of Texas is cancelled for the first time since World War II.
July 7, 2020 — Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urges Dallas diners to eat outside and avoid dining rooms.
July 8, 2020 — Dallas bar owners sue Greg Abbott over the second closure of bars, stating that Abbott’s executive order is a violation of the Texas constitution’s equal protection clause.
July 15, 2020 — Addison’s Oktoberfest is cancelled.
July 24, 2020 — Dallas restaurant workers protest to demand extension of federal unemployment benefits.
August 13, 2020 — Gov. Greg Abbott says that COVID-19 cases must drop dramatically before bars can reopen. Abbott wants the state’s positivity level to be at or below 10% for a sustained period of time, and for hospitalizations to decrease, before resuming his Reopen Texas plan. Cases in Texas appear to be plateauing but the positivity rate is still around 25%.
September 21, 2020 — Citing decreased hospitalization rates, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that restaurants throughout most of Texas can increase capacity to 75 percent. However, he says, “Because bars are nationally recognized as COVID spreading locations, they are still not able to open at this time.”
October 7, 2020 — Gov. Greg Abbott announces that bars in most of Texas can reopen at 50% capacity, but says county governments must “opt in” to the reopening. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says it’s too early for bars in the Metroplex to reopen. “I will not file to open them at this time,” Jenkins says. “I will listen to everyone, but will follow the science.”
December 3, 2020 — On December 2, Dallas County officially surpassed the hospitalization threshold that triggered an automatic reduction of capacity — from 75 percent to 50 percent — for restaurant dining rooms. Bars in Dallas remain closed.
Texas reopens following Winter Storm Uri
February 15, 2021 — On President’s Day, a massive once-in-a-generation winter storm dropped snow and ice throughout the Lone Star State. Residents and restaurants in the Dallas/Fort Worth area faced busted pipes, loss of electricity and other challenges, even as the pandemic continued. Restaurants in the area that did have power served as impromptu warming stations, chefs rallied to feed Dallasites in need, and mutual aid groups filled in the gaps where the government couldn’t, or wouldn’t. See more coverage of the winter storms here.
March 2, 2021 — At a press conference that took place at a Lubbock Mexican restaurant, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he was reopening the state “100 percent” and completely rescinding the statewide mask mandate. Restaurants in North Texas will be allowed to return to 100 percent capacity on March 10, and bars will also be allowed to fully reopen. Abbott’s plan allowing capacity rollbacks in the event of rising hospitalizations remained in place, but the governor said that local governments essentially can not enforce those restrictions if they do need to be implemented.
The Delta variant
July 20, 2021 — After a springtime decline in cases, a new variant of the coronavirus known as the delta variant begins to spread throughout Texas, putting restaurant recovery in jeopardy.
August 11, 2021 — In an effort to stem the rising tide of delta variant cases in North Texas, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins reissues a “universal” mask mandate. A court battle between Jenkins and the office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott ensues, with a Dallas County judge ultimately ruling in favor of Jenkins. As of press time, the mask mandate is still in effect in Dallas County.