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Updated: Austin closes bars, prohibits dining in at restaurants and limits gatherings in response to COVID-19

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 by Andy Jechow, KUT

Restaurants are limited to drive-thru and pick-up service, bars must close, and indoor and outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited in Austin effective noon Tuesday.

Critical infrastructure, like grocery stores, pharmacies, government buildings, schools and hospitals, are exempt from the order, Dr. Mark Escott, interim director of Austin Public Health, said as he announced the changes. The restrictions are in place until May 1, according to the official document.

Although the 10 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Austin-Travis County were all travel-related, he said, a substantial number of people in the community may have been exposed. He encouraged people to use caution before leaving their homes.

“Check your temperature,” Escott said. “Make sure you don’t have symptoms before you make the decision to go out.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler signed the order Tuesday. During a news conference, he encouraged people to avoid nonessential travel and call their doctors if they feel sick, rather than going to an emergency room.

“Collectively and individually we get to decide as a community what kind of spike we’re going to have as this virus begins to enter the general population,” Adler said.

He encouraged employers and workers to reach out to Workforce Solutions and asked landlords and lenders to “extend grace” during this time.

“As we maintain physical distance from one another, we must work more closely together than we ever have before,” he said.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who was also at the briefing, urged the community to be patient.

“Grocery stores are already instituting queuing in order to keep social distance in our aisles, so please be patient when you go to the grocery store,” she said, adding that grocery stores and pharmacies will likely give vulnerable populations priority so they can get what they need quickly.

Eckhardt said the county is looking for ways to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 and recommended buying gift certificates from local businesses to use later. She also reminded people that there is a moratorium on evictions in Travis County.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, released a statement just ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.

“Like the courageous decision to shutter SXSW, Mayor Adler is taking the necessary step to limit suffering and deaths,” Doggett said. “Communities across Texas, especially in our neighboring counties, should do the same.”

You can watch the news briefing here.

President Trump urged Americans on Monday to avoid groups of 10 or more for at least the next 15 days.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News.

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