Austin is about to step up phase 5 of its risk-based guidelines on the COVID-19 pandemic as more new cases emerge after Thanksgiving. That escalation would include a proposed curfew on restaurants, as Interim Medical Director and Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott announced this morning during an Austin Public Health press conference.
Other Level 5 guidelines include recommendations that all open businesses limit their services to only take-out and delivery services. This would require restaurants willingly close dining rooms for on-site services until the number of active COVID-19 cases and hospital stays for a period of 1 year decreases. It also urges people to avoid all gatherings outside of their household groups.
This possible curfew for restaurants would be necessary because “what we are doing now is not working,” says Dr. Escott during the conference. “How else can we limit the risk?” The city will have “a miserable Christmas and a miserable New Year” if we continue this kind of broadcast, “he says.
Dr. Escott is particularly concerned about the “risk associated with evening social gatherings,” reiterating “bars that function as restaurants but still function as bars,” thanks to loopholes provided by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which he has expressed frequently.
Dr. Escott said the cut-off time could be 10pm or 10:30 pm. The late evening time has been chosen so that people cannot go out of their homes at night but still allow household groups to go to restaurants. He currently does not provide for a city-wide curfew for all companies.
There were 415 new cases of the virus in Travis County on December 14 and 613 more cases the next day. The seven-day moving average for hospital admissions is currently 46.4 and the number of hospital admissions has continued to increase since mid-September. The region’s positivity rate is currently 9 percent. This is true even if health care workers across the country, including Austin, get the first dose of the two-step vaccination process this week.
The city entered the fourth phase of the risk-based policy ahead of Thanksgiving, which will ask the restaurant’s dining rooms and bars to reduce indoor capacity limits from the state-allowed 75 percent to 25 to 50 percent.
During the press conference, Austin public health director Stephanie Hayden reiterated that people should continue to cling to their household groups and go only for essential purposes. “Don’t connect with others who don’t live in your household,” she says. Chief epidemiologist Janet Pichette recommends that groups send a single person out shopping or simply opt for supplies instead.
It is important to note, however, that Austin’s stages are not official orders. Rather, they are proposals as the city cannot replace government orders that allow restaurants to stay open for dine-in services at 75 percent indoor capacity and with no outside restrictions, as long as social distancing measures are followed. The governor allowed district judges to decide whether bars can reopen in their respective districts, but Travis district judge Andy Brown has decided to keep them closed.
This week, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission made it easier for bars to apply for restaurant permits this week by lifting some of the restrictions (companies don’t have to get new kitchen gadgets, can serve food that hasn’t been cooked -site) until May 20. February 2021.