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Officials issue stay-at-home order for Austin

City lays out new rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic

East Sixth Street, March 18, 2020
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This is an ongoing story and will be updated.

The city of Austin and Travis County issued a stay-home-work-safe order Tuesday as confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the area. Starting at midnight, residents are permitted to leave their homes only for essential work and activities. Nonessential businesses and operations are required to cease operation, although operations may still continue with all employees or contractors working exclusively from their homes.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt announced the order Tuesday morning.

Essential activities are those related to health and safety, grocery shopping, and outdoor activities that comply with proper social-distancing practices.

Essential businesses are those related to health care, government, infrastructure, certain retail stores, and others.

Public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or dwelling unit are prohibited, with the exception of essential activities or essential work or members of a household or dwelling unit.

Social distancing—staying at least six feet from other people when conducting essential activities outside the home—will continue to be required.

The order increases and intensifies the measures city, state, and (to some extent) national officials are taking to ensure that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s best practices for preventing the novel coronavirus’s spread are being followed.

Two weeks ago, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other city and county officials, including Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, declared a “local emergency” due to the new coronavirus pandemic and canceled the SXSW 2020 festivals and conferences.

Last week, the city and county ordered the closure of restaurant dining areas and bars and banned gatherings of 10 or more people. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, supported the action and urged other cities to do the same. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide public health disaster and on activated the Texas National Guard to assist with response efforts. However, he stopped short of issuing a statewide shelter-at-home mandate, leaving decisions related to the public and COVID-19 to local “communities,” the Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services has live updates on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state and by county.

What does a stay-at-home order mean for individuals?

Tuesday’s order mandates that “all individuals anywhere in the City of Austin are required to shelter in place, except to perform certain essential activities, or to perform work in or obtain services from an Essential Business, Essential Government, Service, or in Critical Infrastructure.” Here’s what that means.

Residents must shelter at home. Homes include hotels, motels, shared homes, and other living spaces.

People may only leave their homes for essential activities, such as grocery shopping, pharmacy visits, or medical appointments. They may also travel to pick up or deliver essential supplies such as food, medication, and laundry.

Exercise and pet walking is permitted as long as social distancing guidelines are followed.

People experiencing homelessness are not subject to the shelter-in-place order but are encouraged to seek shelter, which the city will continue to work with state and local partners to maximize.

Essential businesses include grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, hardware stores, pet supply stores, laundry service, liquor stores, sites of food cultivation, warehouse stores, and restaurants providing drive-thru, takeout, or curbside food service.

Businesses deemed nonessential can continue operating, but employees must telecommute.

Work travel exceptions include leaving homes to work at essential businesses and to perform essential government functions.

Elective medical, surgical, and dental procedures are prohibited.

How is this different from what we’ve been doing?

Past orders from city, county, and state officials have taken the form of directives rather than legally ordered mandates. Health orders are legally binding, meaning violators can be cited for a misdemeanor. While residents will likely be expected to self-comply, failure to do so will be a clearer violation of law. The law can be enforced by peace, code, and fire officers.

Nonessential businesses may allow employees and contractors to work from home only.

With some exceptions, public and private gatherings are now prohibited.

More private and public businesses and offices are closed.

Social distancing in public is mandatory.

Getting around

Essential travel is that related to performing essential activities or essential travel, performing essential activities or going to work in essential business, government service, or critical infrastructure.

All nonessential travel is prohibited. That includes travel by foot, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, automobile, or public transit.

Public transit must comply with social distancing requirements. (Capital Metro schedules and routes have been modified in response to decreased ridership due to the novel coronavirus.)

When will it end?

The order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m Tuesday, March 24 and will last until April 13 unless modified.

Where can I get more information?

City of Austin COVID-19 info page

Travis County

Williamson County