AUSTIN — As nearly 130,000 Austinites have lost their jobs due to government shutdowns, local officials who enacted those orders are busy wishing they had the power to fine and imprison citizens who don’t wear masks.

At a virtual press conference on Monday, former Travis County judge and current special county assistant Sarah Eckhardt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced extended shutdown orders through August 15, which include “strongly encouraging” businesses to operate at smaller capacities than currently permitted and citizens to wear masks and not gather in groups more than 10.

The officials say they extended their restrictions because of a recent uptick in coronavirus hospitalizations in the area, even though Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said hospitals are not in any current danger of being overrun.

“I want to be very clear about something: our hospitals are in good shape right now,” said Escott, who added that most hospitalizations are “relatively brief,” 50 percent being four days or less, and 75 percent being nine days or less.

The reason the officials “strongly encourage” citizens to wear masks and limit gatherings is because they no longer have the authority to criminally punish those who don’t obey their order.

Previously, in March and April, Eckhardt and Adler decreed that anyone not wearing a mask in public could be fined up to $1,000 or even imprisoned for six months, but Gov. Greg Abbott eventually stopped them and other local officials across the state from throwing unmasked citizens in jail.

Eckhardt and Adler, however, lamented the lost power on Monday.

“That is a very, very painful question,” said Eckhardt when asked how they will enforce their new list of restrictions. “Without enforcement capabilities, we are reliant on our community choices.”

Adler added that city officials across the state would “formally request that the governor give the local agencies the opportunity to enforce masks.”

Apart from desiring to throw citizens in jail for not wearing a mask, over the past three months, Eckhardt and Adler have made questionable statements and enacted livelihood-killing shutdown orders based on wildly inaccurate projections and data.

For example, Eckhardt claimed over 10,000 Travis County citizens could die if their orders were not obeyed; Adler used report data from the University of Texas that had 70 to 100 percent uncertainty.

The current reality in Travis County, however, is that there are 4,464 confirmed cases of coronavirus out of 1.27 million people—a little over 0.3 percent of the population. Tragically, 106 have died.

In comparison, from 2017 to 2018, 49 Travis County citizens died from the flu.

Of the state’s 29 million Texans, there have currently been 1,976 coronavirus deaths. This flu season, 6,737 Texans died from influenza and pneumonia.

Meanwhile, because of Eckhardt and Adler’s shutdown orders, nearly 130,000 Austinites have lost their jobs and are potentially facing a new crisis of providing food and a place to live for their families.

Furthermore, despite Adler saying he’s “concerned with the number of people not social distancing” and “wants everyone to put the greatest effort into minimizing groups as much as we possibly can,” the mayor hasn’t even followed his own words, as he recently marched downtown amid a crowd of thousands who were protesting against police.

However, in the officials’ latest “encouragement,” they still pleaded with citizens to obey their order.

“Please, please believe us,” Eckhardt said.

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.