OUT OF CONTROL: Partying in a pandemic

Special Reports

MCALLEN, Texas (KVEO) — Despite health warnings in an on-going pandemic, bars and nightclubs continue to operate in Downtown McAllen.

Videos of large gatherings at bars and nightclubs on 17th street in McAllen can be found all over social media with a quick hashtag or location search.

No mask in sight, and no one to enforce them.

“It seems like we aren’t even in a pandemic – have you seen those videos?” asked reporter Clara Benitez.

“Yes I have- and I’m always very, very sad to see that because that is really being a little selfish,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez.

According to Judge Cortez, 20 to 30 year-olds are the largest age group in Hidalgo County contracting the virus. Cortez adds they aren’t the ones suffering from this pandemic.

“You have to remember many of our people that live in Hidalgo County we are poor –  you will see three generations – grandpa – mom and dad and children living in the same household,” said Judge Cortez.

Fifty to 80 year old’s make up the majority of deaths in the state – with more than half of those deaths – Hispanics.

How are bars and nightclubs allowed to be open as cases and deaths continue to rise?

Judge Cortez says enforcement is fragmented and makes it hard for those in leadership to enforce rules and regulations.

“There are two elements of enforcement – the Texas A.B.C. which is the state agency that governs the Texas alcoholic beverage establishments and then, of course, the different municipalities and county government.”

In order to stop bars and nightclubs from hurting during partial lockdowns during the summer, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) allowed bars to re-classify themselves as restaurants.

According to Chris Porter, public information officer with Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, as long as the bar contracted a third-party vendor to sell food they could open their doors.

“Now that is going to require the amount of alcohol they sell and increase the amount of food they sell and one of the methods in which we allowed that is essentially enabling a food truck or some catering service – or some sort of third-party provider – to lift the burden of building an entire kitchen,” said Porter.  

Judge Cortez says this rule is a loophole in the system – contributing to the spread of COVID-19.

“There is a lot of gimmicks they can put a little tray of potato chips and charge you $20 for the chips and then charge you $.50 for the beer – but they will only charge you $.50 for the beer when you buy the $10 chips – how many beers will it take – but if those are the rules those are the rules. We are going to have to talk to our state legislature to look into that and those loopholes and we as a county or a city cannot change what the rule is,” said Cortez.

NOXX Nightclub partnered with Kumori Sushi to be re-classified as a restaurant – which is allowed – but according to TABC everything seen in social media videos posted by promoters themselves is not.

“We shouldn’t see situations where people are clustered around a pool table – or around a dance floor or something to that effect. We want to make sure that people are enjoying the services while they remained seated and that proper distance apart,” said Porter.

According to Porter, enforcement doesn’t only fall on TABC, “it should be noted that local authorities have the ability to conduct their own inspections.”

If you are within city limits Judge Cortez has no jurisdiction over the city – but step outside city lines and the rules change.

“I hope people understand that enforcement is fragmented – and it is fragmented between the county and the municipalities. When you see a bar in McAllen – don’t call the county – call the City of McAllen,” said Cortez.

KVEO asked to speak to Mayor Jim Darling on the current enforcement happening in Downtown McAllen – but they denied our request.

Instead, KVEO received a statement:

“McAllen Code Enforcement Officers are diligently inspecting all businesses including those bars and restaurants located in Downtown McAllen”

According to the city they conducted over 315 inspections city-wide and had issued 20 citations at the time of our request in November 2020.

Through a public information request – we were able to discover the last weekend in November 2020. 

Noxx Nightclub which re-classified itself as a restaurant earlier this year was one of the nightclubs cited for violating social distancing and exceeding occupancy, each violation $576.

Frat House, SOHO and Snap Shot Bar received similar violations that same night.  

Governor Greg Abbott has made it clear – he will not close Texas again.

Which Judge Cortez says is where we as Texans need to do our part.

“I’m hoping that the people of Hidalgo County will understand – that is it really up to us – up to all of us to contribute to stopping the spread of this disease.”

TABC says if you see a business committing a violation – you can contact them directly – so they can try to fix the issue before it becomes a big problem.

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