The party was in full swing Saturday night at the Surfside Club when Douglas County sheriff’s deputies arrived.
Live music, booze, dancing, crowds.
Sheriff’s Capt. Wayne Hudson described it as “the most egregious violation” of the state’s directed health measures that he’s seen.
Here are some of the coronavirus violations he said he and deputies saw:
- The band Taxi Driver was performing, even though large gatherings like concerts are banned. (Deputies arrived about 8 p.m.; Taxi Driver’s advertised start time was 5 p.m.)
- People in the outdoor area were drinking but not eating. Alcohol is permitted only while served with a sit-down meal.
- People were at the bar, which is prohibited.
- Large groups were crowded around tables. Seating is limited to six per table under the state’s coronavirus rules.
- An estimated 300 patrons were scattered across the popular, indoor-outdoor venue north of Omaha along the Missouri River. With a rated capacity of 350 and state COVID-19 restrictions limiting crowds to 50% of capacity, no more than 175 people should have been there.
When told of the violations observed by the deputies, and the fact that people were drinking without eating, Hudson said the owner offered to buy everyone in the crowd corn fritters.
“We said, ‘No, that’s not going to be allowed,’ ” Hudson said.
Representatives of Surfside and Taxi Driver could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. Surfside had initially advertised Taxi Driver’s performance on Facebook as a “band practice,” but then promoted the music and club as a destination for boaters taking advantage of Saturday’s good weather and the newly reopened, nearby N.P. Dodge Marina.
“He knew the rules,” Hudson said of Surfside’s owner. “He told me the (rules) were hurting his business.”
Surfside, Hudson said the owner told him, is a seasonal business and needed to capitalize on Saturday’s nice weather in the middle of a rainy holiday weekend.
Hudson said he issued the owner a warning, in accordance with county policy. And he sent a tavern report to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, which will put an account of the incident on file.
“We’re going to do everything we can to not cite someone,” he said. “We’re going to give them time, we’re going to talk to them to do what we can before we take enforcement action.”
Hudson said that as he and the owner were talking, someone went to the microphone at the club and announced: “They’re telling us we have to close.”
“We didn’t tell them that,” Hudson said. “But that’s fine with us. They closed.”
The penalty for violating coronavirus restrictions is a $100 fine and a misdemeanor citation, Hudson said.
“We don’t want to spoil anybody’s fun,” Hudson said. “We understand the weather is nice and people want to have fun. You just have to wait until the directed health measures say you can do these things.”
Beginning Monday, the rules will be loosened, allowing some concerts and for bars to reopen, with restrictions. Hudson said the county is awaiting guidance on the loosened restrictions.