Fire marshal to start enforcing 25 percent capacity limit

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Monday, May 25, 2020
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The announcement from Turner comes less than 48 hours after saying the city would not enforce the capacity rule.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- That didn't take long.

Beginning Sunday, the Houston fire marshal will enforce the state's 25 percent capacity rules at bars and restaurants in the city, according to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

"A photo was sent to me and there are others on social media of crowds [in] clubs/bars ignoring the 25% occupancy requirement, no social distancing and no masks," Turner tweeted Sunday. "I want us to move forward but this will set us back. Starting tonight the Fire Marshall (sic) can enforce."

The 25 percent capacity rule was set by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as the state attempts to reopen businesses shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision to enforce the rules comes as the city reported 115 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death.

Turner said Friday that he would not extend any resources to enforce citations if a bar or restaurant is caught not following the 25 percent capacity rule.

RELATED: Houston won't enforce 25% capacity limit on bars, mayor says

SEE MORE: Restaurant and bar owners eager to open after long closures

"Like I said, we will go out there, we will ensure that we are having conversations with the business owners to try to provide a safe environment for those establishments, but that is our only focus - education and information," Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña said.

The mayor mentioned two incidents where the city attempted to enforce the governor's order, but was sued in both cases. Turner said in those instances, the city did not receive backup from the governor or the state.

"Once we see that the state is willing to enforce its own order, then we will enforce the order," Turner said. "But, what we don't want to do, we don't want the city of Houston to be caught in between."

He added that police will monitor restaurants and bars and provide them with information about social distancing, but they won't issue a citation.

"The state has to provide us with assurance that this is an order that they really want to enforce, because otherwise, it puts the city in a vulnerable position," Turner said.

The mayor also asked for customers to be aware of social distancing guidelines, and to wear masks. He said if you go into an establishment that is overly crowded and people are not wearing masks, then leave.

"If you see an establishment that is violating the order, please reach out and contact someone. We will follow up," Turner said.