Austin Closes Bars, Dining Rooms in Latest COVID-19 Measures

Gatherings of 10 or more prohibited; orders in effect through May 1

As expected, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt have ordered that bars and restaurant dining rooms be shuttered to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, through at least May 1.

Restaurants have not been shut down entirely; take-out, drive-through and delivery food service is still allowed. (The city and county are working on protocols to ensure the safety of food service workers and considering bringing on additional health inspectors.) Community gatherings of 10 or more (in a single room or confined indoor or outdoor space at the same time – so, not most offices, hotels, etc.) have been prohibited. This restriction does not apply to government buildings providing essential services, schools or colleges, grocery stores (actually, any store that sells food and household staples) and pharmacies, transit and transit facilities, the airport and airport operations, and hospitals and medical facilities.

Violations of the orders are misdemeanors punishable by fines up to $1,000 or jail time up to 180 days; however, the county's courts are also on hiatus and steps are being taken to reduce the jail population. "The first step would be self policing and reminding others," Adler said at a news conference Tuesday (March 17). "My belief is that, given the gravity of what our community will face if we're not successful, I really do believe that everyone will be pitching in. But the rules are rules and. they are enforceable."

A much greater impact, of course, is feared by many who do follow the rules; "We recognize the economic hardships [are] every bit as large as those posed by the virus itself," said the mayor. While Adler and Eckhardt both said that "many efforts" to mitigate economic impact and help residents and businesses in need are being pulled together at the local level, they noted that state and federal action will be required to get extended unemployment assistance, temporary Medicaid expansion, small business loan guarantees, and other measures that will be needed to recover from COVID-19 as from any other disaster.

In addition to local resources being marshalled to "help bridge the gap until the crisis is passed," Adler urged "vendors and landlords to recognize that the old rules are out the window right now," calling for "forbearance and a spirit of cooperation" as residents and business struggle with rent and expenses during weeks of potential lost income. He and Eckhardt also urged patience and generosity – "tip more than you ever have before" when getting food to go or taking in virtual live music performances, said the mayor.

Austin Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said the city and county are "encouraging our neighboring communities and the state to consider urgent measures now so we can flatten the curve quickly." Gov. Greg Abbott has expressed reluctance to impose statewide restrictions during the outbreak, though he has acknowledged they may be needed. He has activated the Texas National Guard to assist as needed in combating the epidemic and has scheduled a statewide tele-town-hall for Thursday evening.

View the latest order issued by the mayor here.

This is a developing story. Check back for more updates.

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