Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe extended the local “stay home, work safe” orders through Saturday, August 15 in Travis County. The updated order asks restaurants and bars to reduce indoor capacity limits to 25 percent (from 75 percent for restaurants and 50 percent for bars), as Austin escalated into stage four of the Austin Public Health’s (APH) risk-based guidelines as of today.
These two actions are in response to the increasing number of novel coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the county within the past week. Currently, Austin’s seven-day hospitalization average is now 20, there was a record high of 30 hospitalizations yesterday, and a total of 4,545 cases in Travis County as of Sunday.
As part of the updated order and the stage four classifications, all reopened Austin and Travis County businesses — including restaurants and bars — are encouraged to revert back to operating at 25 percent or less indoor capacities, and implement or expand to-go/curbside/delivery services instead. These requests aren’t mandates, though.
Currently, restaurants throughout Texas can operate at 75 percent indoor capacities and bars at 50 percent indoor capacities, with no limit on outdoor spaces. Social distancing guidelines are recommended nevertheless, i.e. spacing tables six feet apart, encouraging facial coverings, and installing hand sanitizing stations.
Likewise, reopened businesses — including restaurants and bars again — are asked to “do everything they can, beyond the requirements” of the state orders “to require social distancing and require face masking behaviors,” as the order dictated.
Otherwise, the “stay home, work safe” order — which had been set to expire tonight — is mostly the same as before: social distancing; face masks are technically required in Austin but there are no penalties for not wearing them; reopened businesses are allowed to operate, including restaurants, bars, and mall food courts; and restaurants are asked to keep logs of diners in order to aid with contact tracing.
During a press conference this afternoon, Mayor Adler and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt took issue with how Texas Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t allowing local authorities to issue their own stringent measures preventing the spread of the virus. This refers to being able to issue penalties and fines for not following social distancing measures, such as not wearing facial coverings.
The governor has “shown every intention of getting back to business as usual irrespective of the facts,” Eckhardt said, referring to the high case and hospitalization numbers.
The two officials also encouraged people to avoid frequenting businesses that aren’t implementing social distancing measures and to not hang out with people who aren’t taking social distancing seriously.
Within stage four of APH’s chart, people are supposed to avoid social gatherings with more than ten people (the number is limited to more than two people for high-risk people), avoid non-essential travel (though it’s unclear what is considered essential under the state’s reopening plan), and be able to go outside only to attend businesses that have reopened (this is restricted to just essential dining and shopping for high-risk people). These guidelines are more recommendations than requirements.
APH’s highest level is stage 5, which incorporates all of Stage 4 guidelines while also limiting shopping and dining to essential needs and restricting social gatherings to household groups.
- COVID-19 Tracking Digital Dashboard [Austin Public Health]
- COVID-19 Prevention Guidelines and Order [Travis County]
Update, June 15, 5:07 p.m. This article, originally published on Monday, June 15, has been updated to clarify the current Travis County Judge.