The City of Austin has issued an order for residents to stay at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and will last until at least April 13.
The order requires all nonessential businesses to close or have employees work from home. Essential businesses, like grocery stores and pharmacies, can remain open. Hardware stores, laundromats, gas stations and child care facilities are also among those businesses that are exempt.
Public and private gatherings of any number of people outside a single household or home are prohibited by the order. Members of the same household are not prohibited from gathering.
Residents are allowed to leave their homes for the following essential activities:
- For health and safety, including doctors' and veterinarian appointments
- To get necessary supplies and services, including groceries and pet supplies
- For outdoor activity, including walking and bicycling - as long as people comply with social distancing requirements
- For certain types of work, including essential business, government service or critical infrastructure
- To take care of others, including pets
Anyone who is caught violating Austin's order faces a fine of no more than $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
At a news conference Tuesday with local leaders, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said she had signed a stay-at-home order for the county. And, recognizing that the "virus knows no boundaries," Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said he, too, signed an order effective at midnight.
Eckhardt said there were subtle differences between the orders, but that there needed to be a statewide and national strategies.
Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said modeling from UT Austin suggests the system has enough hospital beds and ventilators to get through the next three to four weeks – and if "we don't act now, we're going to run out."
If the stay-at-home orders were not instituted, he said, "by May, we will need to be able to provide 20,000 hospital beds a day for our community alone."
He also recommended that schools be closed for the remainder of the semester.
The officials said the intent of the orders was to reduce direct social interaction by 90% to slow the spread of COVID-19.
If that can happen, Mayor Steve Adler said, "we'll be able to weather this. ... Our first responders and health care workers will have all they need."
He said the best way to achieve that is for everybody to stay home.
Austin-Travis County currently has 86 reported cases of COVID-19. Escott said there were probably seven times that many cases.