HOUSTON - Lake Houston is more popular than usual during the Fourth of July weekend as people look for outdoor options to celebrate the holiday during COVID-19.
“We’re changing it up this year,” says one boater named Billy. “There’s only four of us, so we’re gonna try to get out there and stay away from everyone.”
Changes are also coming with expected crowds. One group had to pack up their barbecue pit, folding tables, and chairs after being informed by a sheriff’s office deputy that they could not socialize in the park area without fishing or doing other physical activities.
Out on the water, the Houston Police Department's Lake Patrol says it’s staying fully staffed and masked.
“There has been an increase in people coming out here because of outdoor activities,” says Sgt. Epifanio Garza. “We’ve been tested multiple times, and I plan to get everyone tested as soon as this is done again,” he says. “So far, we’ve been very lucky that all my guys here at Lake Patrol, including myself, have been negative.”
The team is also patrolling the lake for large gatherings after the latest orders from Governor Greg Abbott. Much like enforcement of county fines for not wearing face coverings, the officers plan to issue more warnings than citations.
HPD Lake Patrol officers say their job is more about education and breaking up large groups if they have to.
“We remind them of the county order and the state order and talk to them about social distance,” explains Garza. “We ask, ‘Hey, can you please just try to separate a little bit more and try not to be so gathered together?”
They’re also continuing to make sure everyone has a life jacket if they’re on the water and partnering with other agencies to look for intoxicated boaters. Instead of a warning, those offenders will get arrested.
“Minimize how much you drink. Make sure you are not drunk out here while operating a boat,” adds Garza.
Officers say overall patrols have been peaceful, and they’re hoping people continue safe practices and keep it that way beyond the Fourth of July weekend.