Fire marshal steps in after receiving 550 complaints when bars, clubs reopen

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Many bars reopened over the holiday weekend. They were supposed to be operating at 25 percent capacity, but videos on social media showed that wasn't happening at some places.

From Friday to Monday, the fire department received 550 occupancy-related complaints.

Videos of a packed pool and large crowds showed people not wearing masks or following social distancing guidelines.

"We know that in large crowded areas, where there's not a lot of good ventilation, you're going to have a spread so it's kind of the perfect storm," said Dr. Laila Woc-Colburn, an associate professor of infectious disease at Baylor College of Medicine.

READ MORE: Is it time for occupancy citations to be issued in Texas? Here's Gov. Abbott's response

Experts believe that kind of behavior could cause a surge in cases, but some say, "Just let them gather in large groups. They're only hurting themselves."

But Dr. Woc-Colburn said that's not the case. They're actually hurting you and everyone else because they could spread the virus elsewhere.

"Usually what happens is you're not going to hurt yourself," she explained. "You might interact in that pre-symptom phase where you don't know that you're infectious and you spread it around."

After seeing images from social media, the mayor started enforcing occupancy limits across the city.

The fire chief said they followed up on all the complaints they received and investigated all of them.

"We've gotten good compliance with the business owners. They've been very understanding and accommodating," said Chief Samuel Pena with Houston Fire Department.

Since everyone complied, they did not issue any citations, but if there are habitual offenders, they can issue a fine for up to a $1,000.

"We have instructed our inspectors to take any necessary steps to correct the overcrowding, to correct the occupancy load issues, to the point where they can actually stop an event until those situations are corrected," said Pena.

Since businesses shutdown in March, HFD has received 4,000 complaints. They have issued 10 citations in all.

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