New COVID-19 business orders in effect in Austin-Travis County

With COVID numbers headed in the wrong direction and Austin stuck in Stage 5 guidelines, new rules took effect citywide Monday regarding what businesses can do—and what they must do—to try and keep the surge from shutting them down.  

"It’s basically taking out entire places of employment because everybody in that location is sick, so we need to do everything we possibly can to limit transmission risk," said Janet Pichette, Chief Epidemiologist with Austin Public Health.

The new orders, signed by Mayor Steve Adler, authorize businesses to take one or more of the following steps to protect their employees and customers from COVID:

  • Require employees to wear masks
  • Require negative tests from employees and customers
  • Require vaccination proof from employees
  • Allow customers or employees to provide proof of vaccine instead of a negative test

It’s up to individual store and restaurant owners’ discretion which of these steps they want to take, but one thing is required: They must now post signs on their door outlining what their requirements and precautions are. Businesses must also post a sign indoors notifying customers and employees of safety recommendations during Stages 3, 4. and 5.  

If they don’t do this, they could face a $1,000 fine.

"The new orders are more about helping business owners understand their rights and their flexibility of choice to protect their employees and their patrons," said Adrienne Stirrup, Interim Director of Austin Public Health.

But Gov. Greg Abbott is blasting the rules as null and void. 

Abbott said in a statement, in part: "This municipal order is preempted by GA-38, GA-39, and GA-40 -- all of which remain in full effect. Any business would be within its legal rights to ignore this municipal order…  Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated."

Austin City Council member Mackenzie Kelly argues the penalty aspect does little more than kick businesses when they’re down.

"Our mayor said that this was his way of letting government get out of the way of businesses. But I would say to the mayor that he needs to take a look at what that means in the dictionary, because he’s putting additional restrictions with a possible $1,000 fine onto the shoulders of the business owners, and that’s not right," said Kelly, during an interview on FOX Business’ "Varney & Co."

Many business owners we spoke to say they’re okay with the new rules.

"Having our customers feel comfortable, that’s most important to us," said Skeeter Miller, owner of barbecue restaurant County Line. "These are unfortunate times, but our industry is here to do what we need to do make sure that we can survive."

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