EL PASO, Texas -- From weddings to graduations to fundraisers, dozens of events are still happening in El Paso during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the blessing of the mayor and the health authority.
ABC-7 obtained public records showing who asked for a waiver from the rules restricting the size of public gatherings during the health crisis.
Venues uphold safety guidelines
The Plaza Hotel in downtown El Paso was on the list of venues.
Shanon Woodruff, the hotel's marketing manager, acknowledged the hotel is applying for waivers from the mayor's office to hold events.
"Whatever is decreed by the government and the regulation is what we follow," Woodruff said. "We look at our meeting spaces and we go, 'We used to fix x amount in there; now we have half an x.' We just have to go with that," Woodruff added.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said under state rules issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the city is mandated to look at any gathering of more than 10 people.
The venue must also stay at 50 percent occupancy and require face masks.
"If people are complying and doing the best they can, life needs to go on to a certain extent," Margo said.
Waivers granted to more than 3-dozen events
The mayor then sends the request to the City-County Health Authority, Dr. Hector Ocaranza. He examines the size of the venue, the number of guests or participants and even how organizers will serve food, according to Margo.
According to the data ABC-7 obtained from the open records request, from May 14 to Aug. 13, 39 waivers went before the mayor.
Of those, six were weddings.
"I'd hate to not approve a wedding," said Margo as he grimaced. "I mean, that is - that's a big deal."
Of the 39 requests, the mayor only declined waivers for two events.
One was for a recurring farmer's market in a space the city deemed didn't allow for social distancing.
The other was for a July 4th parade.
The parade organizer told the mayor the format was going to be a drive-by, and the city ultimately allowed it.
Mayor: We must 'adjust our life'
ABC-7 asked Margo if the relatively short list of waiver requests concerned him.
"Well, if people are not following the health protocols, yes, it's a big concern," he replied. "And yeah, that would be an area for spread if they're not wearing face coverings, if they're not maintaining distancing, if they're not washing and if they're not doing temperature checks.
"Most (event organizers) are realizing that there is a vulnerable population out there," Margo added. "Remember, weddings typically have multi-generational attendees. I think they have recognized that."
Woodruff said he realizes the looming threat.
"We are working hard to make sure we handle the pandemic and all that comes with it as best we can," he said.
Margo said he will continue to scrutinize events until scientists develop a coronavirus vaccine.
"I think we're going to have to adjust our life and how we comport ourselves," he said. "And how we conduct our businesses, go to school, and how we go to universities. How we do everything," he added.
Margo said the city trusts organizers to adhere to the guidelines once the city approves the event.
He added that the city prioritizing its limited resources to inspect restaurants and other businesses suspected of operating out of compliance.