We Have an Issue: Stages and Phases

In this week’s issue, a closer look at what the reopening of Texas entails

Illustration by the Chronicle Art Staff

Last week Austin Public Health issued a color-coded chart of "risk-based guidelines" to help Austinites better understand current conditions, from the greener pastures of Stage 1 to the fire-engine red of Stage 5. (We're currently assessed as being in Stage 3.) The chart explains which businesses are allowed to operate, what kind of personal safety measures one should take, how higher-risk individuals should adjust their behavior, and other guidance on how to safely navigate this pandemic.

From stages, we swivel to phases, which is how Gov. Abbott's ongoing plan to "reopen" Texas is proceeding. Starting Friday, May 22, we launch into Phase Two, which allows bars to reopen at 25% capacity, and restaurants to expand from quarter- to half-capacity. Also on Friday's "now open for business" list? Bingo halls, tattoo parlors, skating rinks, and zoos. This expansion comes even as the COVID-19 caseload in Texas hasn't dropped, or even leveled off, but rather continues to climb, which is kind of like running into a burning building, not away from it.

If you go to the Texas Department of State Health Services website, you'll find all kinds of documents on how to prepare – "Protocols for Gyms and Exercise Facilities," "Protocols for Tanning Salon Customers" – but they mostly boil down to the same suggestions. Consider wearing a mask (but it's not required). Maintain six feet of distance from other individuals (well, if at all possible). Self-screen for symptoms and don't go anywhere if you're sick (but businesses aren't required to check your temperature before you enter, or provide hand sanitizer once you're there). And, p.s., stringent compliance with these protocols is strongly recommended ... so, yeah, pretty much up to you then.

What you won't find in these protocols is guidance on the knottier stuff business owners, workers, and customers are weighing right now – economic concerns, safety fears, the moral reckoning of life versus livelihood. The pandemic was already awfully complicated and not at all equal on the shoulders it burdened most. This reopening is proving even gnarlier. This week we have a few stories about how Austinites in impacted industries, including clubs and salons, are approaching the reopening. As Texas continues to open back up for business, there'll be many more stories to tell. And as we start to see the effects of the reopening, I hope we don't also have some terrible regrets.

Online This Week

Standing Room Only: A photo of a densely packed and unmasked crowd taking in a weekend performance by LC Rocks at Emerald Point Bar & Grill ignited a furor online, further illustrating the challenges bar owners face in the reopening of their industry.

Free Fresh Produce: YMCA of Austin has partnered with Brighter Bites and DiMare Fresh to host free distribution of fresh produce throughout the summer.

Sky Hits Its Limit: Dripping Springs' Sky Cinemas, opened in 2018 by Violet Crown Cinema chain co-founder Bill Banowsky, announced its permanent closure after it failed to reach an agreement with its landlord.

The Q&A Hole: Musicians Sabrina Ellis, Ray Benson, and more ponder their preferred reincarnation in Kevin Curtin's latest video. Find it at austinchronicle.com/av.

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COVID-19, risk-based guidelines, reopening of Texas, clubs, The Q&A Hole

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