Austin restaurants and bars must now require that all employees and customers wear face masks, according to an order issued by Mayor Steve Adler. In Austin, facial coverings will be required for everyone except when they are actually eating or drinking at a restaurant and bar. Other exceptions include being alone in a single space, when people are with just their household group, if people can’t wear masks because of mental and physical health risks, and when they are conducting allowed activities (exercise, fresh air, going to an essential or reopened business) by themselves or with their household groups. Alder’s order also states that all local businesses — which include restaurants and bars — will have to also create “health and safety” policies that incorporate this requirement.
While the order begins as of June 17 at 11:59 p.m., businesses have until Tuesday, June 23 to create their health and safety plans. These plans are required to be posted visibly at each establishment and enforced.
Businesses that fail to implement facial covering mandates and social distancing policies will face fines no greater than $1,000. Regarding the face mask portion, every day that a business doesn’t have its customers and/or employee wear face masks are considered separate offenses.
This mask requirement and safety plan order runs through the length of the recent “stay home work safe” order extension, which expires on Saturday, August 15. The city also asked restaurants and bars to roll back their indoor capacity limits (75 and 50 percents respectively) to 25 percent, in efforts to continue to mitigate the spread of the virus. Restaurants and bars are still supposed to uphold social distancing requirements, i.e. making sure tables are spaced six feet apart, limited groups to ten people or less, installing hand sanitizing stations.
Austin recently escalated into stage four of the Austin Public Health’s (APH) risk-based guidelines on Monday, in response to the increasing number of hospitalizations in the Travis County area (a seven-day average that is currently 24.3) and growing number of cases throughout the state.
On July 2, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that people must wear masks in public spaces in counties with at least 20 cases of COVID-19. He also issued a proclamation that restricts gathering to 10 people or fewer and requires six feet of social distancing.
Prior to that order, he hadn’t issued any facial mask requirements since the state reopened for businesses in May (though has released many PSAs recommending people wear masks), and wouldn’t allow local authorities to issue any sort of penalties for those not wearing facial coverings.
Adler and other mayors around the state have been asking Abbott for the authority to issue enforceable face mask requirements. Adler issued this new order soon after Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who also oversees San Antonio, issued a similar order earlier today.
While Abbott didn’t comment on Nelson’s order, his spokesman John Wittman claimed that “Judge Wolff’s order is not inconsistent with the governor’s executive order,” as San Antonio Express-News reported, which implies that the order is allowable.
Update, June 23, 9:25 a.m. This article, originally published on Wednesday, June 17, has been updated to include information about fines.
Update, July 2, 4:15 p.m. This article has been updated to include the executive order from Governor Abbott that requires masks in public places.