AUSTIN, Texas - Austin and Travis County have adopted new orders to align with statewide restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. The new orders, effective now through May 1 unless terminated or modified by a subsequent Order, state: “Staying home is safest.”
The city and county said in a release the overall purpose of the new orders is to mirror Gov. Greg Abbott's order against social gatherings of more than 10 people and to maintain the city's prohibition of gatherings for other than social purposes.
“This new action will continue to move us closer to reducing the spread of this virus, by providing more clarity to individuals and businesses so we can all do our part and get through this crisis together,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
The release says this clarification addresses questions about having more than 10 people in a work environment in a single large space but where they are not close to another. It also adds childcare as an exemption. The order recognizes that health officials are not able, at this point, to require the same social spacing in homeless camps, but the release says that protecting this vulnerable part of the community remains a high priority.
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“Today’s order supplants and is different from my March 17 Order in that it takes into consideration Governor Abbott’s March 19 Order,” said Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. “Governor Abbott’s Order set our state-wide baseline. Our local response team will continue to confer on additional measures above this baseline necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve in Travis County.”
The new orders reinforce the importance of social distancing. Gatherings of more than 10 people for other-than-social purposes are also prohibited unless social distancing can be maintained and controlled.
The new Orders define the following agencies considered “critical infrastructure”, which are ordered to continue operating and encouraged to implement screening precautions to protect employees:
- Financial institutions
- Emergency services
- Transportation systems including airport facilities and operations; transit and transit facilities
- Water and wastewater systems
The following categories are added to the list of exempted services and are strongly encouraged to comply with physical distancing and sanitation measures:
- Family-home or center-based childcare facilities
- Veterinarian services
- Homeless shelters, homeless encampments, and any non-profit community establishment, whether part of or separate from a homeless shelter, providing food in a dining facility to the indigent
The following exemptions carry over to the new orders:
- Grocery stores and pharmacies
- Hospitals and medical offices and facilities
- Government buildings providing essential services
- Schools or institutes of higher learning.
The Governor’s office issued a statewide order on March 19, which ordered the closure of the following business or organization types not closed under the previous Austin-Travis County orders:
- Massage parlors
- Visiting nursing homes, retirement, or long-term care facilities is prohibited unless providing critical assistance
The Statewide Order is in effect until April 3, unless extended by the Governor's Office. The release says the intent of the new city and county orders is that when the Governor lifts the closure order on schools then they will be able to re-open at their discretion.
Since their introduction on March 17, Austin’s service industry establishments have overwhelmingly complied with the Austin and Travis County Orders to close bars and move restaurants to take-out service only.
City Public Assembly Code Enforcement Teams (PACE) and Code Compliance Officers are presently responding to 3-1-1 complaints, confirming whether there is a violation, and providing education and information about the restrictions and answering questions.
A verbal warning will be issued for those found in non-compliance and information will be provided. A citation may be issued, as a last resort. PACE teams and Code officers have so far visited 158 establishments in response to complaints received through Austin 3-1-1. To date, the release says no citations have been issued.
Public health officials are relying on individuals and businesses to exercise personal responsibility and use social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, says the release. Community members are encouraged to call 3-1-1 if they see a violation.
Residents are being asked to increase efforts to protect the at-risk population after initial investigation reports from Austin Public Health showed evidence of a community spread of COVID-19. While it is still early in the investigation into the severity of the spread, officials say a critical point has been reached and it is important the public understand that individuals’ actions will impact the health of the whole community.
On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a public health disaster, the first in Texas since 1901. The executive orders, which take effect at midnight Friday, March 20 and go through midnight on Friday, April 3, will bring the state in line with CDC guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The public health disaster orders schools to be closed statewide until at least April 3. The disaster also orders a ban on dine-in eating and gathering in groups of more than 10 as the state ramps up efforts to battle the coronavirus. Abbott's order also will shut down gyms and bars. It also bans visits to nursing and retirement homes unless there is a critical need.
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You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.