This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Saturday, June 20. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.
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Austin Public Health reported 418 new COVID-19 cases in Travis County on Saturday evening, up from 295 reported Friday. One new coronavirus-related death was reported.
The five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell) had 29 new COVID-19 hospital admissions, according to APH. The seven-day average of new admissions rose from 27.7 to 28.6. Local officials worry about COVID-19 cases overwhelming local hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that number and adjusting risk and restrictions based on it.
The area is currently in stage 4 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, meaning higher risk individuals (people over 65 and those with underlying conditions) should avoid gatherings of more than two people and stay home unless absolutely necessary. Lower risk individuals should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
Stage 5, the highest risk level, would be triggered if the hospitalization average rises above 70. If the average falls below 20, the area will move down to stage 3.
Two Sixth Street bars closed for violating occupancy caps
Two West Sixth Street bars have been shut down for violating the state's regulations on occupancy to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said Saturday it suspended the licenses of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse and Buford's Backyard Beer Garden for exceeding the 50% occupancy cap Friday night. TABC also leveled the 30-day suspensions against bars in El Paso, Dallas and McAllen over the weekend.
Bars must ensure social distancing. Bars that don’t follow the health protocols face permit suspension. Here are photos from last night at Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in Austin before permit suspension ⬇️2/3 pic.twitter.com/uguZ0BLZ6N
— Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (@TexasABC) June 20, 2020
Under Gov. Greg Abbott's emergency order, bars are limited to 50% capacity indoors, while restaurants can host at 75% capacity. Business owners are required to maintain 6 feet of distance between parties. Through an undercover investigation, TABC said it found evidence both Austin bars were exceeding those caps and failing to enforce social distancing.
It's not the first time Buford's has been called out for shirking state and local rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Austin Mayor Steve Adler mentioned the bar specifically after video from its Instagram account showed packed crowds over Memorial Day weekend. Then-Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt also shamed the bar, though both officials admitted there was little they could do to penalize establishments that weren't enforcing social distancing.
While they could lean on restaurants by penalizing them for violating city or county occupancy codes or noise ordinances, local officials couldn't outright shut an establishment down if it didn't follow local guidelines. TABC investigated Buford's after Memorial Day and told Eater Austin that it gave the owners a warning.
Since then, Abbott has come out and said his executive order does allow cities and counties to require businesses to mandate customers and employees wear facial coverings. Austin and Travis County followed with an order requiring businesses to enforce mask-wearing, with those rules going into effect Tuesday.
The closures of both bars come as Austin and the five-county area under the umbrella of Austin Public Health see a record high in new COVID-19 cases.
– Andrew Weber
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