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‘We need to act fast,’ Travis County Judge Eckhardt says ahead of shelter-in-place order

Monday, March 23, 2020 by Samuel King

Stay-at-home orders are expected to be issued in the city of Austin, Travis County and Williamson County Tuesday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. The orders would require all nonessential businesses to have employees work from home and further restrict other gatherings.

Businesses with essential functions, like grocery stores, would be exempt, as would government functions and critical infrastructure.

“We have a very short window to really affect COVID-19’s expansion through our community,” Eckhardt said. “The longer we wait, the more acute the spike will be, so we need to act fast in really decreasing the circulation of people in our community.”

Eckhardt’s remarks mirror those of Austin Mayor Steve Adler earlier in the day, when he signaled such an order would be coming.

She said the orders could be in place for two to three weeks.

Eckhardt said officials don’t want to pick “winners and losers” so they’re drafting the order to address specific activities and not business sectors. She said she and Adler have been talking with other mayors and county officials across the state as they draft the rules. Dallas County, Bexar County and the cities of Waco and San Antonio enacted similar orders in the past two days.

Some officials have criticized Gov. Greg Abbott for not enacting a stay-at-home order statewide. Eckhardt declined to join in that criticism, but suggested the governor mandate stay-at-home policies for all cities and counties in Texas’ major metropolitan areas.

“We can do this piecemeal county by county and city by city, but I think it would be more effective to have a state order, and I would like to work with the governor on that,” she said.

The judge acknowledged the economic costs of the order and the business shutdowns would be significant and would have to be addressed, but she said the costs of not doing more to stop the spread of the disease would be worse.

“Our best way to mitigate the economic effect is to reduce the infection rate,” she said.

Eckhardt had been set to resign from office to run for the state Senate District 14 seat being vacated by Kirk Watson. But Sam Biscoe, who has been appointed interim county judge, has agreed to hold off on his swearing-in because of the crisis. Commissioners are expected to discuss the issue more at a Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday morning.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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