AUSTIN, Texas - People in Austin are still gathering at parks, trails, and creeks even though the city, county, and state have issued orders restricting them from doing so.
Zilker Park was just as busy Wednesday as it usually is this time of year. Picnics, sunbathing, even volleyball games were all still taking place around the Great Lawn. Besides a little more distance between people, it was hard to tell the country is in the middle of a pandemic.
"You kind of go crazy being locked inside all day, so we wanted to try to get outside and get some fresh air and also some exercise," said John Burt who was at the park to play volleyball with friends.
The city’s stay home order does allow people to get outside and exercise, as long as they don’t do so in groups and maintain six feet of separation.
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One group of student-athletes said they were taking precautions while enjoying some time on the volleyball court.
"The way we're dealing with it now, our sport maintains a five or six-foot distance as it is. We cut out the blocking part, which allows us to keep a distance. We don’t get face-to-face with our hands up to block the ball, so we're able to maintain a distance," said Chris Wineinger who was also playing volleyball Wednesday.
Next to that group was a larger group playing closer together.
"It’s serious to take precautions, obviously. And I’m not their parents. I can’t go over there and say anything to them. There’s a lot of people over there and it is a little concerning," said Robert Cummins who was also at the park Wednesday.
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Mayor Steve Adler said he realizes not everyone is taking the city’s stay home order seriously.
"There are a lot of people in our community right now that are gathering at places. I drive all over town. I see the pick-up basketball games going on. That shouldn’t be happening now. People at the spillway, Barton Springs, shouldn’t be happening right now," Adler said.
However, stopping people from doing so is not something law enforcement can take on alone.
"This is not an issue we're going to enforce our way out of. Citations, arrests, whatever. This is only going to be solved by voluntary compliance. We just need the community to cooperate," said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.
Since March 4, Austin 3-1-1 has received more than 1,450 reports of gatherings or events with more people than city orders allow.
"So, we are getting calls from members of the community that are witnessing violations of the orders that are in place and our focus is on education," Manley said.
The city’s most recent stay home order does allow for penalties, like a fine up to $1,000 or a sentence of up to 180 days in jail.
However, Manley said officers have been directed not to stop people to ask where they or going or for proof they are conducting business or activities exempt from the city’s order.
Governor Greg Abbott's essential business order takes effect Thursday and that does add an additional penalty to anyone found in violation of social distancing guidelines. It will make them subject to quarantine order by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
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