Austin-Travis County Urges Businesses To Reduce Capacity, Advises High-Risk Residents To Stay Home

Jun 15, 2020

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Austin and Travis County are renewing their stay-at-home orders as the area sees an upward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Under the new order, reopened businesses “are strongly encouraged” to operate their indoor spaces at 25% capacity or less. They’re also encouraged to provide services remotely or in a way that maximizes physical distancing, like through curbside pickup.

“We want everyone to put the greatest effort into minimizing groups as much as we possibly can,” Mayor Steve Adler said during a news conference Monday.

Adler said he recognizes these guidelines can’t be enforced; Gov. Greg Abbott has allowed restaurants in Texas to operate at 75% capacity and other businesses, like barbershops and gyms, to be open at 50% capacity. Abbott has also said people cannot face legal ramifications for not wearing masks.

Adler said the local orders ask Austin businesses to require distancing and face masks inside their spaces, because the area is seeing an increase in transmissions and hospitalizations.

“The community gets to make this choice,” Adler said. “We get to decide how important it is that we try to protect those around us.”

The revised "stay home-work safe" orders go into effect Monday and expire Aug. 15. The above recommendations for businesses are in effect while the area is in stage 4 or higher of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines. The risk-levels increase as COVID-19 hospital admissions increase.

The area moved into stage 4 when the seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions in the five-county region increased to 20.6 on Sunday evening. A higher average could put a strain on the health care system.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said stage 4 advises higher risk individuals (people over 65 and people with underlying conditions) to avoid gatherings of more than two people and to avoid going out unless absolutely necessary. Lower risk individuals should avoid gatherings with more than 10 people.

The guidelines for this stage advise everyone to stay 6 feet away from others and wear masks in public.

Escott said that although hospitals in the area are not yet over capacity, the recent increase in cases and hospitalizations is concerning. The number of new hospital admissions the area saw last week was a 58% increase from the week prior. The estimated time it takes for the number of cases to double in Travis County was 44 days a week ago. Now, it’s 25.5, Escott said. 

Hospitals are in good shape right now, he said, and people in need of care, whether it be physical exams, immunizations or preventative care, should do those things now and not delay them over COVID-19 concerns.

“The conversation today is about a concern of what is three or four or five weeks in the future,” he said. “As we’ve seen in other jurisdictions who faced similar exponential increases in cases, it can be a very short period of time between when a situation is OK and when the hospitals become overwhelmed."

Escott said the community did a great job in March, April and May of driving down the number of new cases and hospitalizations. 

“We need to do that again,” he said. “What stage 4 means for us is we need to be a bit more cautious.”

Adler said the community got to this stage sooner than he thought it would. He pointed out that the virus is disproportionately going after people over 65, people with underlying conditions and communities of color. 

“By the individual choices we make and what we do over the coming weeks, we get to decide for ourselves how important it is for us to protect those people,” he said. 

Sarah Eckhardt, special assistant to Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, asked the public to recommit to abiding by 6-foot distancing rules, wearing face masks and avoiding places or people who are not equally as committed to those guidelines. 

“Every day we delay, our probability of saving lives is going down,” she said.

This story has been updated. 

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

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