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Austin-Travis County Extends Stay-At-Home Guidelines As Texas Reopens

Gabriel C. Pérez

Austin area officials extended their stay-at-home guidelines Friday morning as businesses reopen under new state rules.

Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt admitted not much changes under the extended guidelines – except to allow for salons to reopen under the state's rules. Though both asked Austinites to continue social distancing, wearing facial coverings and limiting nonessential travel to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Austin's order is extended until May 30, while Travis County's will expire on June 15.

Both orders could be revised if the Austin area sees a spike in COVID-19 cases, Eckhardt and Adler said, adding that they're in discussion with state leadership to determine possible "triggers" that could lead to a reinstatement of mandatory shelter-in-place guidelines.
Watch the announcement below.

The announcement comes as Texas continues its phased approach to reopening businesses amid increases in coronavirus cases statewide. Salons and barbershops can reopen Friday with certain restrictions after an executive order Gov. Greg Abbott issued Tuesday. Last week, the governor allowed some retail stores and restaurants to reopen with limited capacity, as well.

Neither Adler nor Eckhardt said they'd spoken directly to Abbott, but said they had discussed the orders with members of the governor's task force on reopening businesses and the governor's chief of staff, respectively – specifically about how to balance a transition back into commercial normalcy with the possibility of a future spike in COVID-19 cases.

Eckhardt said Austin and Travis County are in a holding pattern, which she likened to a yellow light.

"We are working with the business community to determine what it looks like if yellow light turns red again because of a spike," she said. "We are preparing our community for a possible spike that would require us to step back. The mayor and I ... [are] both working with our partners on developing triggers, so that we can objectively warn our community [if] we are about to hit a red light."

The Austin-Travis County orders extend the requirement to wear facial coverings in public, though there is no penalty for violating that rule. And both orders are consistent with the governor's latest order, which requires people to “minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.”

Eckhardt admitted that the new local orders lean heavily on voluntary compliance, but she urged residents to continue limiting person-to-person contact to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases.

"The more people we come in contact with, the higher the probability is more people will get sick," Eckhardt said, "and more people will die."

Aside from the exceptions that line up with the governor's order allowing salons and barbershops to reopen, the orders also outline suggestions for dine-in restaurants to assist Austin Public Health with contact tracing by keeping logs of both customers and employees.

Logs are voluntary, Adler said, but they could prove crucial for public health officials investigating individual cases or clusters of cases.

"With the governor opening up new businesses, we're going to be in and around people that we don't know," Adler said. "Everything we can do to help the contact-tracers recreate who was where when is something we want, but [it's] nothing mandatory at this point – just a request from Austin Public Health for assistance."

Restaurants would maintain the logs for a month at a time, the city's order says, and businesses will maintain ownership of them.

Earlier this week, Eckhardt and Adler have pushed back against the governor's move to reopen the state, suggesting a lack of widespread testing has clouded the overall picture of the COVID-19 pandemic's impact.

On Tuesday, Adler said he would like to wait another three to four weeks before reopening, and Eckhardt suggested the stay-at-home model is the most effective way to flatten the curve in the Austin area. But the statewide order to reopen salons – and an additional order to allow some gyms and offices to open May 18 – supersedes local rules. 

So far, 59 people have died from complications related to COVID-19 in the Austin area, and there have been just over 2,000 confirmed cases. Statewide, the virus has killed nearly 1,000 people and there have been more than 35,000 confirmed cases.

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at aweber@kut.orgFollow him on Twitter @England_Weber

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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