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Austin Officials Offer the Same Unhelpful Dining Guidelines as Omicron Surges in Austin

Given increased rates of omicron transmission, city officials can only unhelpfully recommend the same guidelines as the last 22 months due to state orders

A person wearing a mask walking a paper bag over to a car.
Austin Public Health asks unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people to stick to takeout and curbside dining as part of the city’s Stage 5 guidelines.
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.

Travis County and the city of Austin have entered Stage 5, the highest level of its coronavirus risk-based guidelines, on Thursday, January 6, following the rapidly increasing surge of omicron variant cases and hospitalizations in the area.

These Stage 5 recommendations include asking vaccinated people to wear masks when dining indoors and outdoors at restaurants and bars (though masks can be taken off when seated at tables for eating and drinking purposes).

The guidance also unhelpfully suggests that diners go to restaurants that are requiring vaccines, something that restaurants are not allowed to legally do in the state thanks to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Last August, sibling restaurants Launderette and Fresa’s attempted to require proof of vaccinations for indoor dining, but then they were told by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission that they would lose their liquor licenses if they continued to do so.

This also means that unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people should avoid any on-site dining and stick to ordering only takeout and curbside pickups. High-risk people, such as individuals who are 65 years or older, those who are immunocompromised, or have other underlying health conditions, are asked to stick to outdoor dining. These aren’t mandates, only recommendations, due to state-level orders.

As of January 5, Travis County’s seven-day-moving average of hospitalizations was currently 74.4 percent as of January 5; the positivity rate 29.7 percent; and the community transmission rate of 1,067. There have been 5,166 new cases in the past seven days; 385 hospitalizations with 69 people in the ICU and 29 on ventilators. Austin Public Health shared that one in three COVID-19 tests taken through the city agency was positive for the virus during the last week of December. Officials recommend that everyone get vaccinated and boosted.

In December 2021, Austin had entered Stage 4 just ahead of Christmas. During that time and since then, many local restaurants and bars had to close temporarily due to staffers testing positive for COVID-19 or opting to close temporarily in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. Currently, both locations of American-Chinese restaurant Old Thousand are currently closed through Tuesday, January 11 for those reasons.

The last time the city was in Stage 5 was over the summer of 2021 during the delta variant.