TARRANT COUNTY, Texas — Updated at 8:41 p.m. with more information about Cowboy Christmas.
In a year where crowds have been scarce, Tarrant County is preparing for some big ones.
“We are expecting tens of thousands of visitors to our community over the 12-day period,” said Mike Crum, director of Fort Worth’s Public Events department.
Wrangler’s National Finals Rodeo, or NFR, is coming to North Texas this week, with events starting Thursday, Dec. 3. The high-profile event is considered the “Super Bowl of rodeos,” said Crum.
The rodeo itself will be held at Globe Life Field in Arlington, with 14,000 people per night, said Crum. And supporting events all over Fort Worth, including the Cowboy Christmas market at the convention center, will also bring visitors in the thousands.
“A great shot in the arm for the city from a financial standpoint,” said Crum.
All of this is happening as the county sees thousands of new COVID cases a week. WFAA asked Crum if he’s concerned about the tens of thousands of people expected in Fort Worth and Arlington.
“Yes, are we concerned? Absolutely. But we're also prepared,” he said.
Crum said they’ll offer voluntary temperature checks at the doors and even refer guests to COVID testing if they don’t feel well.
“We literally have hundreds of thousands of masks available to share with guests,” he said.
Kimberly Redding of Winnsboro was excited to not have to travel out-of-state this year for the rodeo. She's one of the 243 exhibitors at this year's rodeo. Her small business R Cinco Ranch has represented at the annual rodeo event for the last several years.
Redding said her lifestyle shop will hopefully garner 25% of her annual income over the next 10 days.
"I really do not have concerns. [The organizers] have made it very clear of their expectations," Redding said.
WFAA asked Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley if now is the right time to invite events like these into the community, during what medical experts say will be the darkest period of the pandemic so far.
“That's a hard decision to make,” Whitley said.
Whitley wasn’t part of that decision, but said he won’t second guess the mayors of Fort Worth and Arlington. He urges visitors to be respectful of protocols.
“What I hope is they'll understand the severity of this pandemic and they will do everything they can to work with us and not completely ignore the fact we've got this going on,” he said.
Crum seemed confident of the city’s decision to bring the event to Arlington, a decision he said was made 90 days ago. He said there was no discussion of canceling the event, even though the pandemic statistics are worse now than they were when the decision was made.
“We can do this successfully,” he said — an assurance with a lot riding on it.
WFAA reporter Jobin Panicker contributed to this report.