Austin And Travis County Will Limit Dine-In Hours At Restaurants New Year's Eve Weekend
The City of Austin and Travis County are restricting dine-in food and beverage service between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m., starting Thursday and lasting through Sunday, Jan. 3.
Businesses that offer these services can still operate during those hours but can only offer drive-thru, curbside pick-up, takeout or delivery services.
The restriction applies to businesses that serve food or drinks, including food trucks, according to a press release from the city and county.
- Read the city’s order here.
- Read the county’s order here.
The orders come as New Year’s Eve approaches and COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in the Austin area. New cases have increased 80% in Travis County since Dec. 1, and the positivity rate is over 13%, Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said during a press conference Wednesday.
He added that in the last eight days the number of COVID patients in intensive care units has risen by 50% in the Austin area. He urged people to stay home over the holiday weekend to curb the spread of disease.
“We know that you’re tired,” he said. “We know that you’re lonely. We know that you are done with COVID, but COVID is not done with us.”
Businesses that violate the dine-in hour restrictions could face a fine of $1,000, according to the orders.
In a tweet Tuesday night, Gov. Greg Abbott called the city’s restrictions a “shutdown order” and said his executive order “stops cities like Austin from arbitrarily shutting down businesses.” The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also tweeted about the orders, saying they violate the governor’s order and local officials “must rescind or modify their local orders immediately.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said during Wednesday’s press conference that the local orders do not violate the governor’s order because they enforce an operational change. The orders tell businesses to limit dine-in service, but they don’t have to shut down during those hours.
“The reason that we’re doing this is because it focuses on the activity where people are together without wearing masks,” Adler said. “That’s what the experts tell us is the single biggest point of potential risk.”
Adler said law enforcement will be out Thursday, Friday and Saturday enforcing the rules and issuing citations, but getting everyone to comply with the rules will be a challenge.
“Our hope is that people won’t go out to businesses that are open late and that everyone in this community will do everything they can in a selfless way to try to keep this community as safe as we can make it and avoid as many needless deaths as we can,” he said.
Paxton sent a letter to Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown on Wednesday asking them to rescind or modify their orders “or face imminent legal action from the State.” Later that day, Paxton filed a lawsuit against the city and county in an attempt to halt the orders.
"Relief in this suit would provide swift and much-needed victory for the people and businesses of Travis County," a press release from Paxton's office said.
Both El Paso and San Antonio have used curfews to curb the spread of COVID-19. El Paso instituted an overnight curfew Thanksgiving weekend that banned gatherings of more than 10 people between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. – but it didn't expressly close businesses. County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told reporters that Gov. Abbott supported that measure. (Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton previously opposed El Paso's efforts to institute a lockdown in October.)
El Paso doubled down on that strategy over the holidays, instituting one curfew over Christmas and another aimed at preventing New Year's celebrations that went into effect Dec. 29 and lasts until Jan. 4.
San Antonio and Bexar County also had a curfew over the Thanksgiving holiday that limited gatherings, but it also banned indoor and outdoor dining. Neither Abbott nor Paxton publicly criticized that curfew, as they have Austin and Travis County's orders.
KUT’s Andrew Weber contributed to this story.
This story has been updated.