AUSTIN, Texas - Two years into the pandemic and COVID-19 is still showing signs of sticking around. Austin/Travis County continues to sit in Stage 5 Austin Public Health's COVID-19 Risk-Based Guidelines and it's now prompting the city and county to issue new orders, specifically for local businesses.
At businesses' discretion they must do one or more of the following:
- Require employees to wear masks
- Require negative tests for employees and customers
- Require vaccination proof from employees
- Allow customer or employee to choose to provide proof of vaccine in lieu of a negative test.
All of these options are choices that the business can make, but one thing is mandatory and that's a sign that says what decisions they have made. Businesses must post a notice at the entry to the business that identifies whether the business requires face coverings, negative COVID-19 test, or vaccinations. Another notice must be posted in an area that employees and customers can see that provides notice of all health and safety recommendations during Stages 3, 4, and 5.
If an establishment doesn't comply with the order, they get slapped with a $1,000 fine.
Governor Greg Abbott immediately released a statement following the announcement:
"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. The Governor's executive orders, have the full force and effect of law, are enforceable by state and local law enforcement. Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility. Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated."
Businesses FOX 7 Austin spoke to say they don't have a problem with the new orders. "Public health is important to us that’s our reputation," said Skeeter Miller, owner at The County Line Bar-B-Q. Miller said he has always kept signs up as the phases of the pandemic changed.
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"I understand what’s been asked of us and we are 100% going to be in compliance with what they’re asking," Miller said.
Other businesses agree, they will do what it takes to keep customers and staff safe. Waterloo Records and Video even dropped their building capacity as soon as the area hit stage five.
"They can expect a welcoming environment. We've got masks required for everyone, we provide them if they don't have one, social distancing hand sanitizer, air filtration throughout the store," said John Kunz, owner.
"I don’t want to get in the middle of Texas politics and city politics, but I have to operate in this city and I want to make sure we’re doing everything our city is asking us to do," said Miller.
The Austin Code Department, the fire marshal as well as Austin police officers have the authority to enforce the new order.
City of Austin officials also said they are preparing to distribute 96,000 face masks to local, small businesses to help bolster PPE resources available to protect employees and customers.
More details about the mask distribution will be announced in the coming days.
WHAT IS STAGE 5?
Stage 5 is the highest restricted level for the pandemic guidelines. It means the public must take extra precautions to prevent transmission. For Stage 5, those fully vaccinated are suggested to wear a mask while indoors, outdoors, and around crowds. For the unvaccinated, it's recommended to avoid all gatherings and not to travel unless necessary. If you are out it's advised to take advantage of curbside dining and shopping.
- For high-risk individuals, indoor and outdoor private gatherings are not recommended at all, with or without precautions, travel is discouraged unless essential, dining should be outdoors with precautions, and shopping should be outdoors or takeaway or curbside.
- For low-risk individuals, indoor and outdoor private gatherings, travel, shopping, and dining should be with precautions. Note that places that require vaccines and masks may pose a lower risk.
GET VACCINATED, TESTED, OR BOOSTED
APH says COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters continue to offer the best protection against the virus and its variants. Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses are available at all APH locations. As of Wednesday, APH says 30% of the eligible population (5 years and older) is not fully vaccinated and only 23% have received their booster. Officials say this leaves the community vulnerable to the disease.
APH clinics offer COVID-19 vaccinations and testing on a walk-up (no appointment needed) basis, although creating an account online in advance saves time. COVID-19 vaccinations are free and require neither identification nor insurance. For more information and to schedule an appointment, call 3-1-1 or visit www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.