Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope told Texas Tech Public Media Friday morning that the city is working to enforce the state's COVID-19 precautions. They're just limited in some of what they can do.
State rules on business capacities, gatherings and masking have varied in the eight months since the coronavirus was first confirmed in Texas. In the spring, local governments were making decisions based on regional outbreaks. But Gov. Greg Abbott's executive orders have superseded local mandates since the summer.
Right now, outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited under state and local orders. Lubbock's restaurants and other businesses not defined as essential are operating at 50% capacity due to the region's high COVID-19 hospitalization rate. Some bars have closed, but those that reclassified as a restaurant in order to reopen sooner are also under that 50% capacity rule.
These are examples of spread mitigation measures that are more enforceable.
Pope said a joint strikeforce with agents from local law enforcement and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission this weekend to monitor business capacities.
“The last thing I ever thought I’d be talking about as a mayor is working with TABC to shut down bars that aren’t cooperating during a pandemic," Pope said.
Kong's, a bar in the Depot District, was found in violation of protocols earlier this month. Their liquor license was suspended for 30 days, according to a news release from the TABC. The agency temporarily closed eight establishments in the state that weekend.
Guidelines for private, indoor gatherings are less defined, especially if they're at people's homes. Pope said the city has broken up large gatherings as they're reported. Just this week, he was told tickets for noise violations and unlawful gathering were given at a big party in the Tech Terrace neighborhood.
Pope said smaller get togethers are proving to be a contributing source to the city's unchecked spread.
“Most of the spread is birthday parties. It’s wedding showers. It’s small gatherings," the mayor said. "We had nine teachers in one elementary school test positive because they went to a 50th birthday party.”
Texas is still under a mask mandate instated in July. Face coverings are supposed to be worn in most public places, when social distancing is not possible. Violators are subject to a $250 fine after a first warning, according to the executive order.
Pope said it's hard to enforce this order the way it's currently written.
Next week, Midland's city council will consider an ordinance that would fine businesses $500 for not making customers and employees wear masks correctly. Lubbock's council considered a similar ordinance this summer, though it wasn't approved.
“If our council feels like an ordinance like that would be a deterrent, something positive in this effort, I think we would consider it," Pope said about revisiting the issue.
Lubbock's COVID-19 situation continues to worsen. This week, the city's hospital systems received medical tents and more healthcare workers to alleviate the stress on the facilities. Over 50 people have died with complications of the virus just two weeks into the month. Hundreds of cases are confirmed each day.
“I’m concerned. I don’t like the trajectory that we’re on," Pope said. "I believe that we can change our situation, but it will take all of us working together to accomplish that.”
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