AUSTIN — To put it plainly, local officials are playing harmful games right now to keep businesses locked down and citizens out of work.

Over the past six months, state and local officials have shut down Texas’ capital city, throwing at least 132,000 Austinites out of their jobs and forcing countless citizens to struggle just to afford food or a place to live. Officials’ orders have also killed off numerous iconic local businesses, and they are now on the brink of exterminating nearly all of Austin’s culture-defining live music venues.

Meanwhile, in the past month, local coronavirus numbers have only dwindled, and officials’ data from the past several months continues to be proven wildly inaccurate and overblown.

But despite the data fog clearing and the numbers revealing a not-so-scary reality in the city, local officials curiously keep changing their ambiguous rules, blocking the city from reopening and Austinites from working.

A quick summary:

In June, Mayor Steve Adler extended his shutdown orders to mid-August and said the city could reopen more once fewer people went to the hospital with coronavirus (even though Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said area hospitals were not in danger of being overrun and a majority of coronavirus hospital stays were “relatively brief”).

In August, when hospital numbers waned and supposed “spikes” of cases over the summer turned out to be false alarms due to a disastrous state reporting error, the officials switched their rules and said they’d primarily use the questionable positivity rate, not hospital numbers, to decide whether to reopen the city further.

Escott said the city could reopen more once the positivity rate—which is simply the number of people who test positive for the virus out of the people tested—fell to 5 percent or less. Adler extended his shutdown orders to mid-December.

This week, after the positivity rate dropped to 4.6 percent, Escott changed the target yet again, saying in a press conference yesterday that the city now cannot reopen more until the positivity rate is below 3 percent.

“The goal posts keep moving… The threshold was 5%, and now it is 3%,” one citizen remarked on Twitter. “What will the new metric be once we cross the 3% threshold?”

“I figured that there would be some sort of recognition that the positivity threshold is dropping from 5% to 3%, with some explanation about why,” the citizen added.

Not only have Escott and Adler been moving the finish line further and further away for struggling Austinites, but the “finish line” of an even lower positivity rate is a highly questionable decision at best, because it means officials are looking at only a fractional sample of the county to decide whether to block the rest of the area’s 1.2 million people from affording food and rent.

“So, let me get this correct,” one citizen commented on social media. “The bureaucrats want to get away from hospitalizations and use the percentage positive. So in a city/county of 1.2 million, if only 100 people get tested (because the other 1,999,900 folks are not showing signs of being sick), if 6 people are tested positive, the whole city needs to remain closed because a random 5% target level was established? That’s beyond stupid.”

“All other stats falling off a cliff and [you] finally post the positivity rate and introduce a ‘new’ goal to keep stifling local business,” another citizen tweeted to Mayor Adler.

The bottom line: Why do local officials keep changing the rules? And when exactly will Austinites finally “be allowed” to earn a living again?

“It’s very hard to see anything but this epidemic in the South being basically over,” summarized former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson in an interview last week. Berenson also recently authored a book about coronavirus data that Amazon attempted to censor.

“Whether or not [small businesses] are making a profit at this time, all they are asking the government is to open their doors and keep them open for business,” said Annie Spillman, director of the Texas Small Business Association. “You can trust that small-business owners especially will follow and have shown that they’ve followed health and safety guidelines.”

Concerned citizens can contact Mayor Adler, the Austin City Council, or Austin Public Health.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.


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