Austin Restaurants and Bars Must Stop Dining Service at 10:30 p.m. Starting New Year’s Eve

Austin and Travis County’s bars and restaurants must close all food every night from 10:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. beginning New Year’s Eve Thursday December 31 through Sunday morning January 6. The order was received from the city and county on Tuesday evening.

This is believed to be Austin’s way of stopping New Years Eve parties as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has continued to rise since Thanksgiving and is almost as high as the summer surge across the state. Travis County’s current positivity rate is 12.7 percent. (The World Health Organization recommends a rate of less than 5 percent to keep businesses reopening.)

The new regulation applies specifically to “any place where food or drink from a kitchen, food truck or on-site catering service is served”. While bars and restaurants will have to cancel all nightly on-site services, businesses can continue to offer take-out, curb, drive-through and delivery services during these times.

Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Health Authority and Public Health Medical Director, was expressly concerned about New Year’s Eve meetings. In the press release on the contract, he wrote: “We are now witnessing uncontrolled, widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the community, particularly in circumstances where masking and distancing are not possible, making bars and similar establishments extremely worrying over the holiday weekend . ” People are allowed to take off their masks while sitting at dining tables and eating and drinking. During an independent press conference earlier this week, he also said the city would enter 2021 “in a state of emergency”.

The restaurant curfew was previously recommended by City 5’s status of the COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, which were issued just before Christmas. These guidelines also called on companies to close all dine-in services in favor of take-out and delivery, or at least close indoor dine-in services and reduce outdoor capacity to 50 percent. Several Austin restaurants have taken it upon themselves and are voluntarily closing all dine-in services.

Violations of this regulation will be considered a criminal offense with fines not exceeding US $ 1,000. Austin Mayor Steve Adler said during today’s press conference that law enforcement staff will be out every night to make sure companies are following instructions and will provide quotes when needed. The fines cannot exceed $ 1,000 because “the tools we need to help facilitate and implement the advice and suggestions [of medical professionals] are the tools, ”he says.

Texas governor Greg Abbott tweeted last night that Austin, Travis County’s order was “not allowed” because its executive order allows companies to reopen for services. According to the Texan regulation, restaurants are currently allowed to operate with a capacity of 75 percent indoor and outdoor, while complying with the regulations on social distancing. Counties can choose whether or not to reopen bars in their areas, but Travis has still declined that option. However, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has made it easier for bars to function as restaurants with new loopholes, so many bars have reopened for on-site services anyway.

Adler said the on-site curfew was “an operational restriction,” as he explained during the morning’s press conference, a “tightly coordinated arrangement that focuses on operational changes to protect against the most dangerous situation” so that it does not violate government regulations . “We do it in a way that our lawyers deem appropriate,” he adds.

The Texas Restaurant Association is also questioning Austin / Travis County’s orders. “Closing indoor restaurants does not prevent holidays from being celebrated,” said the press release sent by email. “It will just put them in totally unregulated spaces from highly regulated companies.” The order does not apply to house parties, but city and county orders currently limit all social gatherings to 10 people.

When asked about house parties during a press conference held this morning on Wednesday December 30th, Dr. Escott: “We ask people to love their neighbors and not hold parties that we know are dangerous.” He addressed potential liability issues should a party participant fall ill or die of COVID-19. “The message is very clear,” he continues. “It’s dangerous and we are at a time when we need to limit the risk as much as possible to avoid overwhelming increases.”

“We will never be able to enforce our path to compliance levels in this city that are really necessary to protect us,” says Adler. “That includes the individual choices people make about where to go and where not to go. and that companies think about how they work and what they do. “

“We need restaurants and bars to solve the problem of public safety in the city,” says Adler, “but there is also this economic problem.” He urges restaurants to offer take-out and delivery during these hours of the night and that people order and tip food, drinks, beverages from these locations during these hours. “These people and companies suffer severe and significant financial damage for the common good. We as a community can help alleviate this, and we must do it. “

“We know it’s difficult,” says Dr. Escott. “I grew up in a family with a small business, a restaurant. I know it’s difficult and I know you are working on tight margins, but we have to stay that way.” of course a little longer. “

“We’re talking about a small period of time,” continues Dr. Escott continued, “but in that short span of time what we do, the decisions we make, will have a lasting impact on hundreds or maybe thousands of people in the area.” our community. “

Update, 11:13 a.m .: This article, originally published at 9:14 a.m., has been updated to include comments and details about the city’s press conference.

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