The Common Law

Mask up, Austin (and stop bridge jumping into Lady Bird Lake)

"The Common Law" continues to address your COVID-19 legal questions. You ask. We'll do our best to answer for as long as we remain in a period of uncertainty. Here are more questions and quick answers:

I'm confused about masks. I thought the most current city of Austin order required masks to be worn at all times, period. But I still see lots of folks running or walking through my neighborhood with no mask. What's the deal?

The general rule is that all persons MUST (it's capitalized in the city order, too) wear some type of mask. But the order goes on to provide 11 exceptions when wearing a mask is not required. One exception is for any person that is "(a) exercising outdoors or engaging in physical activity outdoors and (b) maintaining a safe distance from others not in the same household." Based on your description, it's likely that the folks walking and running through your neighborhood fit into this description. All that said, the city's current order stresses the need to wear masks and social distance as much as possible. If you are exercising and you can't social distance, then you should wear a mask.

What's the current limit on the number of people that can gather? Are there any exceptions to this? What about UT football games?

Outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people are currently prohibited. There are some exceptions, including religious services, local government operations, child care services, and some youth camps and recreational sports programs for youth and adults. The city's most current order recommends that folks avoid taking advantage of the exceptions if at all possible.

There are also certain outdoor activities that are being limited to no more than 50% of the normal operating limits, which include things like collegiate sporting events, swimming pools, amusement parks, museums, and libraries. So, at present, UT football falls under this category and would require the stadium to be at no more than 50% capacity. The UT administration recently sent an email suggesting it may limit capacity even more, possibly to only 25%. All participants in these activities are still required to social distance and wear masks.

How long does Mayor Adler's current order last?

Mayor Adler signed the most current order, titled "Stay Home, Mask, and Otherwise Be Safe" (Order No. 20200702-017) on July 2. The order extends until August 15. The Mayor's office has indicated that it's highly likely the order will be re-extended into the fall.

I was running Lady Bird Lake and saw a bunch of high school kids were jumping off a pedestrian bridge into the lake. Seems dangerous. Is that allowed?

No. The Texas Water Safety Act provides general water laws across the state; however, the city of Austin created several more specific rules for bodies of water in Austin. According to city ordinance §8-5-44(A), it is unlawful for any person to dive or jump from any bridge which crosses the Colorado River within city limits, which includes Lady Bird Lake.

This ordinance was put into place for good reason. While the lake may look inviting on a hot summer day, concrete and rebar from old bridges and dams hide beneath the surface. In 2012, a man impaled his leg on some rebar, and just a few years ago a teen hit his head after diving in. Bridge jumping is also dangerous because of things floating above the water, since you never know when a kayaker or a paddleboarder will appear. This was the case a few years ago when a woman jumped from a bridge and landed on a kayaker, sending them both to the hospital. The city's also testing for harmful blue-green algae in summer months, which killed several dogs that swam in the lake in 2019. Bottom line: Hey, high school kids, don't jump into Lady Bird Lake – it's against the law and dangerous!

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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