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Austin, Travis County Extend Stay-At-Home Orders, Require Public To Wear Face Coverings

The Austin skyline during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gabriel C. Pérez
The Austin skyline during the coronavirus pandemic.

Austin and Travis County are extending their stay-at-home orders until May 8, officials announced Monday. 

The new orders will go into effect when the original ones expire at 11:59 p.m.

Under the extended orders, people are required to wear fabric face coverings when conducting essential work or activities.

“Everyone over the age of ten must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when in a public building, using public transportation or ride shares, pumping gas and while outside when six feet of physical distancing cannot be consistently maintained,” the city said in a statement.

Watch Austin Mayor Steve Adler discuss Austin's updated order below:

People don’t have to wear a mask when eating or riding in their own vehicles or when they're alone in a separate space or at home with people they live with. Face coverings are not required if they pose a mental or physical risk – for example, if someone has trouble breathing or can't remove a covering without help.

“Face coverings are another key piece in flattening the curve,” Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County interim healthy authority, said in a press release. “It is critical that the public understand that this will not only help in slowing the spread of the disease, but face coverings are also part of our foreseeable future to safely reopen our society.” 

Officials urge the use of fabric face coverings, not medical-grade masks or N-95 respirators, which they say are in short supply and should be reserved for health care workers and first-responders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Austin Public Health provide guidance on how to make a face covering.

Essential businesses will be given signs to help enforce the new requirement. The city said wearing face coverings doesn’t replace the need to maintain physical distance from others.

While violating the order is a criminal offense, the city said, enforcement “is substantially reliant on self-regulation and a community commitment to public health and safety.” If there isn’t widespread compliance, though, it said enforcement “will be increased.”

“I continue to be impressed with the resiliency and the spirit of our Austin community,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a press release. “We’ve done so well, and now we have to do more. Wearing face coverings, that can be made at home from things around the house, will help protect store clerks and those around us. Let’s take care of each other.” 

The extended orders also outline new instructions for people living with someone who is being tested for or has tested positive for COVID-19. Anyone living in the house must isolate until the health authority clears them.

Fabric stores are considered essential businesses under the new orders, so they can sell fabric and needed supplies. The stores will have to follow physical distancing requirements and limit the number of people in the store at once to no more than 10.

The orders largely mirror the ones that went into effect in March: nonessential businesses and activities must cease or operate from home. Indoor and outdoor gatherings are not allowed. People can still leave their homes to access necessities, like groceries and medications, and go outside for exercise. 

Some aspects were updated to align with Gov. Greg Abbott’s March order. For example, religious services are now listed as essential businesses in the Austin and Travis County orders, though they should be provided via video or teleconference.

Adler discussed the extended Austin order in a live Facebook video Monday night. He said the goal of having people wear face coverings isn't to protect youreslf from getting the virus but to prevent you from potentially giving it to others.

“Think about the clerks that are in the grocery store — they’re seeing lots of people over the course of the day,” he said. “We owe it to them. I think we have like a moral obligation to them to make sure we are protecting them as best we can.”

Adler also reminded people that park amenities are closed, but people can still go to parks and exercise if they keep a 6-foot distance from others.

“We’re going to try to keep the parks open for everyone in the community as much as we can because people have to get outside during this,” he said. “But we really do need the community to recognize that in keeping them open, we have to be doubly diligent that we’re not letting people congregate.”

He said the city doesn’t know yet if the stay-at-home order will be extended past May 8. 

“Over the next week to 10 days we’re going to know a lot more about the numbers here and what’s happening with the conduct we’re doing,” he said. 

You can read the updated Austin and Travis County “Stay Home — Work Safe” orders below:

This story has been updated. 

Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.

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Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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