Amid the nationwide coronavirus concern, Austin’s mayor has enacted sweeping new rules with a costly penalty.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Mayor Steve Adler, along with Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, ordered all restaurants and bars in the county to close and prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people. The restrictions began at noon today and will last for six weeks, until May 1.
Violating the order carries a $1,000 fine.
The officials did make exceptions to the order, allowing crowds to still gather at grocery stores and pharmacies. Restaurants are allowed to operate a carryout or delivery service if they wish. All dine-in restaurants and bars, however, must shut down.
On Tuesday, Adler said they’re developing “greater and greater” protocols for the restaurants that will still operate, including potentially sending more city health staff out to inspect locations, and they are also considering stricter methods of enforcing the new rules. Though he said the “first level” of enforcement is personal responsibility, Adler said the city will impose fines and may even expand the “same kind of code enforcement staff that [normally] enforce our laws and ordinances.”
The new restrictions follow similar closures in Dallas and Houston. As far as the consequences to businesses and employees in the state, the Texas Restaurant Association says they will be drastic.
“Restaurants can’t just shut down overnight, because we are talking about 1.4 million people [across Texas] that would be out of a job,” said Anna Tauzin, the chief revenue and innovation officer for the TRA. “And that’s just the people who work in the restaurants. You’re not thinking about the vendors that supply them or the delivery drivers.”
Mayor Adler was asked if restaurants could simply adjust some of their sanitation practices to remain open; one reporter cited a recent experience at Chuy’s Tex-Mex where the restaurant took measures such as spacing out tables to accommodate concern.
“Ultimately, the advice we got was we needed to err on the side of doing this well and completely,” Adler replied.
As of Tuesday morning, there are 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Austin-Travis County area. Despite the city’s new rules, city officials have also said not to panic but to practice good hygiene, including washing your hands with soap and water, avoiding touching your face, and staying home when you are sick.