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City Mandate for Masks in Austin Restaurants Extended Through December

Exceptions to the ‘stay home’ facial coverings requirements are when people are actually eating and drinking and when they are seated at restaurant dining tables

A masked employee cleaning the floor of a restaurant
A masked employee cleaning the floor of a restaurant
David Pereiras/Shutterstock
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

The City of Austin extended its current COVID-19-related stay home order last Friday on August 14. This means that Austinites will have to continue to wear masks and social distance through December 15, which includes restaurant diners and employees. The order covers both Austin and Travis County, as issued by Mayor Steve Adler and County Judge Samuel T. Briscoe.

Currently, Austin is still in Stage 4 of its risk-based guidelines, which recommends social distancing, wearing face coverings, being able to go back to work, only dine and shop at reopened businesses, and avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people. There have been 24,144 cases of COVID-19, 234 hospitalizations, and 335 deaths, all in Travis County as of August 16.

The order extension of the now-called (and albeit wordy) “stay home, mask, and otherwise be safe” order is the same as its previous renditions and the emergency rules issued by Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, on July 14 (which were supposed to expire on November 15).

This means:

  • People have to continue to wear facial coverings, with several exceptions being made, including when someone is actually eating and drinking or when seated at a restaurant to eat and drink
  • Businesses, including restaurants, are still required to mandate that employees and customers wear masks when on their properties, and display signage regarding this requirement publicly.
  • Businesses that have been allowed to reopen under the executive order — which includes restaurant dining rooms — are able to continue to do so at the allowed capacity limits (50 percent indoors, no limit on outdoors but social distancing must be maintained), but the order “strongly encourage[s]” them to operate at lesser capacities to help with social distancing.
  • Restaurants and retail shops are still encouraged to implement contact tracing (where the businesses would collect the names and contact information for all customers in order to track potential infections. (For privacy purposes, these logs are meant to be kept for a month and belong to the businesses.)
  • Indoor and outdoor events of more than ten people are overall still banned, though there are many exceptions, including religious services, youth camps, and sports programs.
  • Social gathering-geared places and businesses, such as sporting events, swimming pools, rodeos, and amusement parks, can still operate, while adhering to a 50 percent capacity limit and maintaining social distancing and facial covering requirements.
  • If a person in a household group is suspected of having or has tested positive for the virus, that entire group has to be quarantined for at least 14 days or until otherwise told by the Austin Public Health.
  • People who have tested positive or are suspected of having the virus or have been in proximity of someone who has tested positive should not go into work
  • The order notes that facial coverings, maintaining six feet of distance from other people, and washing/sanitizing hands, must be followed at the same time (i.e. one isn’t a substitute for the other).

Any violation of this order is considered a criminal offense, which would result in a fine of no more than $1,000. People who violate the facial covering requirement will be issued a verbal/written warning, followed by a maximum fine of $250 if the breach continues. Each individual day or partial-day during which the infraction occurs is also considered a separate violation.

The order noted that enforcement is “substantially reliant on self-regulation and a community commitment to public health and safety under the threat of COVID-19,” which means that people and businesses will have to look out for others. “If there is not widespread compliance with this order,” it notes, “the city will increase enforcement efforts, as allowed by law.”