FAYETTEVILLE — Long lines outside a bar usually indicate exclusivity.
These days, they could be caused by waiting until enough people leave to maintain social distancing inside.
State Alcoholic Beverage Control board agents, city fire marshals and police officers keep watch over downtown nightlife to ensure people and bar staff follow health directives regarding the covid-19 pandemic. On any given weekend, 10 to 12 such officials are out on Dickson Street and the square.
The people in charge of inspecting businesses, enforcing health regulations and maintaining public safety say bar employees and customers for the most part are following the rules. However, officials can’t be everywhere at once.
Two agents from the state work in the city and give warnings or citations to businesses for not following state directives such as wearing masks and staying socially distanced. Three businesses have been issued citations during the pandemic.
Fire marshals monitor occupancy, enforcing the two-third capacity rule set by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the state
Department of Health.
Police keep an eye on people outside, do walk-throughs inside businesses and respond to any complaints. They also call the agents or fire marshals to check out potential health violations.
The city could have 50 officers on Dickson and, even with every bar following the rules perfectly, the responsibility of public health and safety falls on individuals, said Jeremy Ashley, battalion chief and a city fire marshal.
Sometimes a bar can adhere to the capacity rule, but still have too many people inside, Ashley said. That’s especially true of smaller establishments. If a fire marshal sees people too close together, he’ll tell the bar staff not to let anyone in until a certain number of people have left.
Fire marshals see bar staff as partners, Ashley said.
“We’ve had zero pushback from any of the bars or bouncers or managers when we make those kinds of assessments,” he said. “Nobody wants to be open more than they do. They all understand what’s at risk.”
Fire marshals have the authority to write a ticket for occupancy violations or close a place. It hasn’t come to that, Ashley said.
There are times when a bar gets overcrowded and a video of it circulates over the internet. Ashley said he’s seen those videos. The behavior is uncommon even though the videos give an impression that sort of behavior is common, he said.
At the scene
Two anonymous Twitter accounts, AR COVID-19 Fails and UArk COVID-19 Fails, have been sharing photos and videos of people who appear to be breaking health guidelines downtown and on campus.
Large groups can be seen clustering outside around the West Avenue and Watson Street area, many not wearing masks. Photos show lines of people melding together on the narrow sidewalk on the north side of Dickson Street. Greek life students are shown taking pictures in close…