Austin begins the week under new city restrictions
Monday, March 23, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
This week, Austin enters a new phase of public health preparedness, under a new order from the city that expands restrictions put in place last week as part of an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The new order, which was issued Saturday, prohibits social gatherings of more than 10 people and gatherings of 10 people in general, unless social distancing can be assured.
“While the city is doing well minimizing close interactions, we must do more to reduce the number of people congregating closely at stores,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement to the press. “This new city order issued tonight requires this, and adds requirements for certain critical infrastructure to help ensure they are able to maintain operations. Let’s stay focused on physical separation, and do our part to flatten the curve.”
New prohibitions apply to retail establishments that have remained open, such as grocery stores and pharmacies. Those businesses are now required to establish controls that maintain at least six feet between patrons in lines. The resolution issued by the mayor notes that such controls “may include, but are not limited to, requiring each person to take a shopping cart or placing markers on the floor.”
The order does not apply to schools, child care facilities, medical offices and hospitals, veterinarian clinics or homeless shelters, homeless encampments and any nonprofit that provides food to the indigent.
On Sunday, lines of would-be patrons snaked through grocery store parking lots, with customers evenly spaced and awaiting permission to enter from new bouncers posted at entrance doors.
The city also encouraged retail establishments to minimize the number of people working in close proximity to one another and increase the cleaning of surfaces and availability of hand-washing stations and sanitizer and the use and capacity of drive-thru, curbside and delivery services.
Since the order to close dining rooms and bars was put into place Tuesday, individual businesses and local delivery services have moved quickly to facilitate delivery and takeout food and drink. The city’s Transportation Department has worked to install temporary food pickup zones in areas that have numerous restaurants but no designated pickup area. Gov. Greg Abbott waived previous restrictions that prohibited alcoholic beverage delivery and takeout from restaurants, and local food delivery services have waived fees and collaborated with restaurants in an attempt to keep their businesses afloat.
Along with the new rules, the city issued recommendations from the Austin/Travis County Health Authority. In the recommendations, the city defined “critical infrastructure” that will continue to operate despite new restrictions on gathering as it is “vital to the security, governance, public health, safety and economic continuity of the city of Austin.”
That includes banking, transportation services, utilities, manufacturing, media, medical services, fire and law enforcement, agriculture and food production, airport facilities and operations, and sanitation services.
Employees are asked to stay home and follow self-quarantine procedures if anyone in and near those industries:
- has signs or symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as a cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat;
- has a fever greater than 99.6°F;
- in the previous 14 days had contact with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 and did not have the appropriate personal protective equipment designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; is under investigation for COVID-19; or is ill with a respiratory illness;
- has traveled to an area the World Health Organization or CDC considers a “hotspot.”
There are also new recommendations for employers in critical industries, who are asked to create and implement an infectious disease response plan and safeguard the health of their employees and patrons by observing the regulations laid out by the city in the order.
The new order went into effect Saturday, March 20, and will continue through May 1 unless terminated. Those found in violation of the order can be punished with a fine of up to $1,000 or confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days.
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