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‘The biggest problem ... is with nightclubs’: Go inside HFD’s effort to patrol bars amid coronavirus pandemic

HOUSTON – Since March, the Houston Fire Department has been working to make sure bars, restaurants and clubs are following COVID-19 guidelines.

“We just got a call that you were over-crowded, and we are doing the required governors order,” HFD Inspector Juan Garcia tells an employee at the Ojos Locos Restaurant on Gulf Freeway. “Have you been keeping it in compliance?”

After his inspection, Garcia said the cantina is doing everything right and following the rules.

The inspection team also received a call about a hookah bar on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard being overcrowded. The business was closed when they arrived.

Garcia said they receive complaints every day and the weekends always keep them busy.

“The biggest problem the city is having right now is with the nightclubs,” he said.

Saturday night, fire marshals shut down Spire Club in Midtown because it was over capacity. A video showed people turning up without a mask and no social distancing was being observed. About 200 people stood in line, waiting to get inside.

“It takes a lot of personnel to actually get a large crowd under control,” Garcia said.

Garcia said he’s not trying to ruin the fun, but it’s HFD’s job to make sure places are following the rules during this pandemic.

“We are trying to stop the spread of the virus,” he said. “Typically, if we are having people gather in large crowds, we are never going to get control of it.”

Garcia said if an establishment reaches capacity or is not following the rules, they ask owners to not let people inside.

Officials said people can call 311 to report an establishment that is not following the coronavirus rules.