AUSTIN, Texas - With Texas retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls opening up May 1, the question remains how will Travis County handle this?
“We remain concerned because COVID-19 is highly infectious. The infectious nature of the virus has not gone down,” said Judge Sarah Eckhardt. She knows reopening is inevitable and must happen, but in a careful manner.
“We cannot go back to business as usual. Business as usual would mean a number of infections and hospitalizations that will overrun our hospital capacity,” she said.
The governor's plan only allows these businesses to operate at 25 percent capacity. So it won't be business as usual here in Austin.
“The new normal is going to be six feet of distance, face masking, and still a lot of hand washing. If this community sees our infection rate start to skyrocket, I think this community will respond accordingly,” said Eckhardt.
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Eckhardt agrees with the state opening things in phases, but if things do go awry, Travis County is ready to respond.
“I’m concerned there is not much representation in genuinely small businesses, and there is no representation for the local leaders who have been on the frontlines of this for the last two months,” said Eckhardt.
“I’m proud we have relationships that preexist COVID-19, making it possible for us to have a measured response that is perhaps more robust than the state could ever approach,” she said.
With the rollout of an online test enrollment platform, the city continues to expand testing capacity...even purchasing a rapid test analyzer. But the issue is, there are still not enough kits available to place in the machine.
“We need eight times as much testing capacity than we currently have. In order to control this virus and reduce unnecessary death we need multiple times more testing capacity than we currently have,” she said.
Reopening the economy needed to happen eventually, however, Eckhardt reminds Travis County residents to remain vigilant, and continue proper practices to slow the spread of the virus.
Austin City Council member Greg Casar has expressed concern for the governor’s plan. He sent FOX 7 Austin this statement:
"We all want to open our small businesses, but we must do so in a way that prioritizes the health and safety of all. Today’s action by the Governor does not do this. The Governor has put us on a path toward more coronavirus hospitalizations, before significantly ramping up testing or giving communities the resources we need to win this battle, and with no real plan on how to protect our seniors and those with underlying health conditions. If our hospital rooms begin to fill up because of the Governor's actions, our health officials will likely recommend that we shut down businesses again.
If we get that recommendation, we will take clear and decisive action to protect Austinites. We will not hesitate to use our legal authority under the Texas Constitution to shut down the city again and resume our shelter-at-home policies, regardless of what the Governor has to say about it.
I have a very important message for those people who are immunocompromised, older, and those who have serious underlying health conditions. The Governor is putting you at risk without a plan for your health and safety. If you fall into one of these vulnerable categories, please stay at home as much as possible, regardless of the Governor's order. I am calling on all employers to keep vulnerable people working from home, to the greatest extent possible."
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