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Austin Restaurants Still Asked to Operate at Reduced Indoor Capacities as Part of Stage 4 Roll Back

As COVID-19 hospital rates improve, restaurants in Austin and Travis counties recommend that restaurants limit dining capacities anywhere between 25 to 50 percent

Masked diners at a restaurant dining table
Masked diners at a restaurant dining table
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.

On Tuesday, February 9, Austin and Travis County rolled back into Stage 4 of their risk-based guidelines, because of the decreasing number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the region. Under these guidelines, local health officials still recommend that restaurants limit their on-site operating capacities anywhere between 25 to 50 percent.

The Austin and Travis County recommendations are not mandates, but rather suggestions. Local jurisdictions can’t override Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders, which allow restaurants to operate at 75 percent of normal indoor capacity and full outdoor capacity while following social distancing measures.

At the same time, Austin does have a mandate requiring people to wear masks at all times in public, except when people are seated at a restaurant for eating and drinking purposes, as well as rules regarding social distancing between individuals and household groups and a 10-person cap on social gatherings.

Austin’s risk-based stage levels are determined by the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations related to COVID-19. The city had been in Stage 5 — which asked restaurants and bars to roll back to only takeout and delivery operations or, at least, close indoor dining and limit outdoor dining to 50 percent — since mid-December. During that time, the area had to reduce indoor capacity to 50 percent of normal levels from January 10 to January 30, due to the high COVID-19 hospitalization rates in the region, as required by the state.

Right now, Austin is in the initial phase of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. Phase 1 of the distribution includes only health care workers; people in long-term care facilities; people who are 65 years and older; and people who are 16 years and older with specific medical conditions. Grocery store workers and restaurants workers who fall outside of those parameters are not allowed to receive the vaccine yet, despite being considered essential workers during stricter lockdown periods and their interactions with the public who are unmasked while dining. In New York, both restaurant and grocery store workers are eligible for the vaccine, as well as in Detroit. San Francisco is going to start vaccinating those workers by the end of the month

Dr. Mark Escott, who is the Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, still urges the city to social distance, especially since a more contagious virus variant has officially been identified in the region. “We have been successful because of the choices the community has made to be safe,” he says, “and follow the data-driven risk guidelines.” The press release notes that Austin Public Health is aware of potential case number changes in light of the Super Bowl this past weekend and probable parties outside of household groups to watch the football game.