Austinites are now required to wear facial coverings and follow social distancing rules through November, according to a set of new emergency rules released by Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority yesterday. These regulations are now active through November 12.
Additionally, Austin City Council passed an ordinance last week that allowed violators of the rules to be fine up to $2,000, with the potential to take individual cases to civil court.
Austin is currently still in Stage 4 of its risk-based COVID-19 guidelines. However, based on the latest seven-day average of almost 70 new hospitality admissions, the city has been hovering near Stage 5, which would call for the ban of all social gatherings and urging people to limit dining and shopping to only essential needs. There have been a total of nearly 16,000 cases in Travis County, with 469 hospitalizations, 179 deaths, and almost 12,400 recoveries. Statewide, there are over 10,000 hospitalizations, according to Statesman.
Many of the new requirements under Dr. Escott’s emergency rules remain the same as the current “stay home, work safe” order by Austin Mayor Steve Adler (which expires on August 15) with some changes:
- People have to wear face coverings covering their nose and mouths when outside their homes, with certain exceptions including while actually eating and drinking, while seated at a restaurant, while exercising outdoors or getting fresh air, and while driving. Those under the age of ten aren’t required to wear face masks, nor those with certain medical conditions.
- People must adhere to general social distancing measures, such as maintaining distances of at least six feet between people and household groups. That distance is shortened to four feet for groups seated at restaurant tables if there is a “solid barrier” between the tables, as the emergency rules noted.
- Businesses, including restaurants, are still also required to enforce facial mask requirements for employees and customers.
- Likewise, business are also still required to implement social distancing guidelines, frequent sanitizations of high-touch areas and facilities, and display signage detailing COVID-19 preventative measures and mask requirements.
- Public social groups are limited to ten people.
- If someone who tests positive for COVID-19 or is suspected to have COVID-19, that person and their household group must quarantine until the Austin Public Health deems it okay. Those who test positive have to also quarantine for at least 10 days from the beginning of being sick, and an additional three days after symptoms go away. The two-week quarantine period also applies to those who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, dating from their last interaction, even if there are no symptoms.
Originally, the Austin and Travis County mask mandate, which was issued on June 17, put responsibility on businesses to enforce on their properties at the risk of a $1,000. Now, with the passing of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order on July 2, individuals throughout the state are being held accountable for wearing face masks in counties with at least 20 cases of COVID-19.