AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced on Tuesday that all Austin bars and restaurant dining rooms must close for six weeks in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Adler also announced the City of Austin is limiting gatherings to 10 people.
The closures will run from Tuesday, March 17 until May 1, unless City leaders decide to change the order. Food establishments must now close common dining areas and are encouraged to give take-out, delivery or drive-thru options. Bars are ordered to close common bar spaces open to the public and are prohibited from allowing consumption on its premises.
Dr. Mark Escott, the interim Austin Public Health authority, said before the orders, there wasn't enough being done to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"With the original 10 cases, there are a substantial number of individuals in the community who may have been exposed. Due to this, as well as the increasing number of cases in the State of Texas as well as the number of person-to-person cases in the State of Texas, it is our estimation further spread is high," Dr. Escott said.
Dr. Escott added that it was evident they needed to increase measures to keep residents safe.
"In the medical field, we know from decades of past outbreaks that social distancing is one of the most effective ways to prevent spread is to limit exposure between people," Escott said. "But we are also advocating for solidarity. Over the coming weeks, our personal hygiene choices will be the main factor to keeping our community safe.”
There are exceptions to the orders. Critical infrastructures such as airports, CapMetro, emergency services, grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and schools don't have to follow the order.
Adler said he understands the economic impact of the orders and asks for compassion from the community.
"Forbearance and the spirit of cooperation. Now could be the real difference between survival and failure. So, landlords and lenders and noteholders, I would ask that you extend grace to the fullest extent that you are able to do that," Adler said.
There are 17 reported cases of COVID-19 in the Austin area as of Tuesday night. Austin health officials are encouraging the public not to "panic," but to practice personal hygiene.
"Austin Public Health (APH) epidemiologists and nurses are currently conducting contact tracing on hundreds of people believed to have come into contact with the people tested positive in the local area," the City of Austin explained in a press release sent Tuesday afternoon. "All of the cases so far are related to travel outside Austin-Travis County."
Adler said the public's health was the City's priority when leaders decided to initiate this order.
"Our acts, individually and collectively, will determine how fast and how hard the virus hits our city,” Adler said. “We know today’s Order will create huge hardships for many and we resolve to do all we can to address the economic impact this virus is having. But public health must remain our first priority and the experts tell us these are steps we must take. As we have done before, we’ll do this together and help each other.”
The City is also urging the public not to "hoard groceries or supplies," but to just buy what they need.
According to the City, grocery stores and pharmacies are urged to do the following:
- Increase the use and capability of drive-thru, curbside, or delivery services
- Limit or restrict the number of customers permitted in a store at one time
- Minimize the number of employees working within arm’s length of one another
- Provide hand washing capabilities, hand sanitizers and tissues
- Frequently clean high-touch surface areas like countertops, doorknobs, and handrails
- Ensure appropriate social distancing of lines
On Monday, the mayor said he had been monitoring what other cities have been doing. Cities such as Los Angeles and New York have already closed restaurants in response to coronavirus.
People impacted by the new orders are asked to visit the City of Austin COVID-19 for more information and to see additional services. Citizens can also contact 311 with questions about particular services. More resources are available here.
“We understand that people will need resources during this difficult time,” said Christopher J. Shorter, Austin's assistant city manager. “In anticipation of the impact of the new Orders, The City of Austin, Travis County and our community partners are providing a range of services to help residents, workers and businesses who are likely to be most burdened by the new restrictions.”
“We are aware that the new orders will impact all Austin businesses, especially our creative-sector workers and venues,” added Veronica Briseño, director of economic development at the City of Austin. “Many of the resources we’re offering provide immediate support to ensure the economic and mental health of our local business owners, employees, and their families.”
John Doggett, who has been a professor for 30 years, said changes being made to prevent the spread of coronavirus are necessary.
"So, economically, it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better but, in theory, if this works, we might be able to see the economy turn around in a month or a month-and-a-half or two months at the latest," said Doggett.
Several Central Texas schools have also decided to cancel classes after spring break because of coronavirus.
You can read the City's full order online here.
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