New COVID Orders for Businesses Now in Effect

Businesses now required to post signage explaining health prevention measures

The city hosted a mask distribution event for business owners on Wed., Jan. 19 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Businesses in Austin and Travis County are being ordered to post signage regarding whether customers and employees are required to wear face masks and provide proof of vaccination, among other health prevention measures.

Last week, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown issued "Protecting Customers and Employ­ees and Preserving Adequate Workforce Capa­city" orders aimed at addressing widespread staffing shortages and growing strain on health care facilities during Austin's current COVID surge fueled by the Omicron variant. Under the new orders – which went into effect on Monday, Jan. 17 – local businesses are required to post a notice informing customers and employees of any prevention measures being taken to protect public health. The notice asks business owners to check off either "yes" or "no" options for the following: requiring employees and customers to wear face coverings while on the site (except while eating or drinking); requiring employees and customers to show a negative COVID-19 test; requiring employees to provide proof that they're vaccinated and, when appropriate, boosted; or allowing employees or customers to provide proof that they're vaccinated in lieu of showing a negative COVID-19 test result.

"We are enabling businesses to better protect public health and to make sure they have enough healthy workers to stay open," said Mayor Adler. "This is an example of government getting out of the way of business." The orders also provide for a notice to be posted on the front door so potential customers can know whether or not a business is providing these protections. Meanwhile on Wednesday, Jan. 19, the city distributed some 96,000 face masks to local business owners at an event intended to bolster businesses' personal protective equipment supplies.

The orders come as Austin continues to break records in its COVID metrics. Earlier this month Austin Public Health declared Stage 5 of the local COVID-19 Risk-Based Guide­lines amid significant spikes in the local community transmission rate (CTR) and hospitalizations. With hospitalization data including both people who are admitted because of COVID and those who happen to test positive after being admitted for other reasons, health officials have turned toward the CTR as a primary indicator for measuring the state of COVID risk in Austin. As of Jan. 18, Austin's CTR stood at 1,896, while Texas' statewide CTR was reported as 1,562. On Jan. 18, APH reported a seven-day moving average of 120.6 hospitalizations, an all-time high. Last week Austin's test positivity rate rose to 33% – the highest it's ever been – meaning one in three Austinites getting tested are testing positive.

"From teachers, cashiers, and cooks to nurses, techs, and EMS, there's never been a greater risk for all of us in the community to catch COVID-19, and our way of life is in danger because of it," said Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes. "We must take as many precautions as possible to stop this spread. Wear well-fitting masks anytime you go out, get vaccinated and boosted, and stay home if you feel sick."

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COVID-19, Steve Adler, Desmar Walkes

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