A "shelter-in-place" order for Austin-Travis County will be announced Tuesday, Mayor Steve Adler confirmed to KUT.
It was unclear when the order would go into effect.
On Sunday, Dallas County became the first county in Texas to issue an order for residents to stay home in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus and keep hospitals from being overrun. Adler said local officials were taking the best from cities like Dallas to craft the order.
Adler spoke earlier Monday with KUT's Nadia Hamdan about new rules Austin instituted over the weekend and plans for a shelter-in-place policy here.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
KUT: Over the weekend, the city put in place some new social-distancing rules. How is the city planning to enforce those rules in retail stores?
Adler: The new rules have the force of law, and there can be fines associated with somebody that doesn't follow them. But the truth is, ultimately we're never going to have the ability to be able to enforce something like this everywhere. It's going to take really all of us recognizing that we have a responsibility to everybody else. We're all in this together. We only succeed in really not having that spike of activity here if we all do our part.
So, it is against the law, and if somebody is violating it, then it's important for people to call 311 so we can keep track of where is not being monitored. But by and large, what we're having in the community right now are people that are, in fact, participating. People are, I think, appreciative of the fact that now there is an emphasis on making sure that we had the 6-foot social spacing in lines at grocery stores and the like. I think people felt more comfortable with that. Ultimately, we're in this together and it is our individual actions that make our collective action and that is going to make this work.
KUT: When you see that Travis County has adopted new orders to align with statewide restrictions, what exactly does that mean?
Adler: The ordinance that the governor put into place said that there shouldn't be any social gatherings of 10 or more people. Our rule was already in place in Austin, 10 or more people. When the governor issued his ruling, we reissued ours to do other things, to specifically recognize that we were aligned with the governor on prohibiting social gatherings of 10 or more people.
Of course, we went further in Austin and Travis County, and we're allowed to go further than the state rule. And we did that. We also prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people without social spacing, in places other than social gatherings. So, in part we're perfectly aligned and, in part, we go beyond what the state's requiring.
KUT: Parks and outdoor spaces are some of the few places people can find some normalcy – but a lot of people out in parks are not practicing proper social distancing. Do you have any kind of recommendations for people as they head out the door to be with people? Should they be taking it more seriously even though they're outside?
Adler: People absolutely have to be taking this very seriously. You know, the ability to be able to go outside and be in a park or to go jog or walk around the lake is important for people's health, too. But people have to take seriously the social distancing. People should be taking their temperature before they head out to make sure they're not heading out [if they're sick].
You know, we saw those pictures of the kids at the beach in Florida and it was hard to watch. Everybody needs to understand, even younger people, that this is very serious, that younger people get and carry this virus the same way that everybody else does. It's just that some of the younger people are going to carry it without knowing that they have it. But that makes them weapons, and they can spread it to other people. And if we spread it, people will die. That's true. Which is why this is something we have to take seriously.
It is OK to be outside. It is great to be outside. But when you go outside, you shouldn't be within 6 feet of other people. That social distancing is something that is very important.
KUT: Are places of worship exempt from that social distancing and the limit of 10 people our less?
Adler: The answer is no. People, that 6-foot spacing distance is real important and we're serious about that. People should be practicing that everywhere. And what we find is that the churches and the mosques and the synagogues seem to be moving to online services, which is how for the moment that has to be. So, yes, our prohibition against gatherings of 10 people or more include churches and synagogues, temples, places of worship.
KUT: What is the current testing capacity right now in Austin and Travis County?
Adler: You know, it's not as easy a question to answer as a simple number. You know, I think that we have capacity for 1,000 tests coming to us a day, in terms of the number of tests we could administer. At this point, we don't have that many tests, and we don't have all the supplies to be able to do that and to be able to sustain that. The best person to ask the specific numbers if you need to have them would be to check with the city public information.
KUT: Dallas County is the first county in Texas that has issued a shelter-in-place order and Gov. Abbott said he would applaud any local leaders who decide to take that step. Have officials thought about this for Austin and Travis County? Has that been a discussion you are having? And if so, what are you thinking about right now in terms of a shelter-in-place policy?
Adler: You know, a shelter-in-place policy is something that is absolutely under consideration. I know that the county judge here has been in contact with county judges in the other big counties. I've been in communication with the mayors of the other big cities, including Dallas and Arlington, that were impacted by the order yesterday.
We're all looking at that option, and we're making these decisions on a day-to-day basis. You know, a lot of what was in the Dallas order were things that we're already doing here in Austin and Travis County. But the question of going even further to make sure that people really take seriously the fact that we can control whether our hospitals get overtaxed, but only if we take this seriously, is certainly something for us to consider, and we continue to have conversations on that.
KUT: What is the most important thing you want Austinites to know right now?
Adler: Well, I tell you, the most important thing, I think, is to make sure you don't go outside if you're not feeling well. Take your temperature. If you're not well, don't go outside. What we're trying to do more than anything else is prevent this virus, which is contagious and it's going to move through our population because that's what viruses do.
Second, the social distancing is critically important. Everybody should be trying to stay 6 feet away from everybody else everywhere that they possibly can. And then I want people to know how our city fares is within our control. But it takes really the collective action, all of us pulling together, all of us taking this seriously. But if we do that, then we should be able to fare better. And that's why we need people to focus.
KUT: Should people be wearing masks when they leave the house or is that really just something that is not going to be that helpful?
Adler: You know, at this point, what I'm hearing from the doctors is that's not something that is that helpful. It doesn't stop people from being infected if you're around somebody that has the virus. So at this point, asking people to wear masks is not part of the recommended protocol that we're urging people to do.
People should be focusing on washing their hands a lot. They should be focusing on the social distancing. And they should focus really on trying to stay at home. Don't go to work if you don't need to. You know, if we can get a couple of weeks of this, we could really see the impact it's going to have.
The number [of infected people] is going to go up because as we do more testing, we're going to find more and more people that we know have it in our community. But what we're seeing now was baked in a week to two weeks ago, some even before South by Southwest was canceled. And the work that we're doing over the last few days, we'll see the benefit of that in another week or week and a half. We're always going to be a couple weeks behind, which is why we really need people to focus.
KUT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Adler: I would urge people that when they do go out to shop at the grocery stores and the pharmacies – which is still allowed – I would urge everybody to go to the store by themselves. There's no reason to take the whole family along. That's going to make it easier for everybody to be 6 feet apart – if we just go to the store and go in and do our shopping and leave. That's one of the places we saw here the last several days that people were getting really too close together, and that's why we entered that last order. I'd remind people of that.
This post has been updated with confirmation that Austin-Travis County would be issuing a shelter-in-place order Tuesday.