AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Public Health (APH) announced Thursday that businesses in Austin-Travis County will now be required to post signage that informs employees and customers of health and safety recommendations related to the local COVID-19 risk-based stages.
The orders also support businesses imposing and posting additional rules or guidelines for customers, including requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result.
Laura Labay, manager at Nau's Endfield Drug, wasted no time in putting up her signs. She's already requiring a mask and proof of vaccination when entering the pharmacy. She's glad she can now enforce both of these things.
"I think it's great that we have the ability to enforce this because there's so much, you know, kind of like the unknown," said Labay. "How do I also protect my customers and my business and also myself because I have some older parents."
However, while some require vaccination proof, others like Bar Peached restaurant don't.
"My job is to run a restaurant and feed people and allow people to have a great experience at my restaurant," said Eric Silverstein, Bar Peached owner. "My job is not to make these public health decisions."
As for Silverstein's employees, he said he encourages getting vaccinated but does not require it.
"I am leaving it up to them in terms of making that decision," Silverstein added. "We do incentivize vaccinations through our COVID sick pay policy, but it's not a requirement that you're vaccinated."
The measures are all in efforts to keep businesses like these open.
“We appreciate every business that does their part to keep our community and their customers healthy and safe,” said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. “Today’s orders support local businesses by providing them tools and options to keep their doors open, customers safe and our local economy growing.”
"We are enabling businesses to better protect public health and to make sure they have enough healthy workers to stay open,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “Today’s orders authorize businesses to choose for themselves whether they want to require masking or testing, or look at vaccinations, in their own facilities as a way to protect their customers and employees. This is an example of government getting out of the way of business. The orders also provide for a notice to be posted on the front door so potential customers can know whether or not a business is providing these protections."
On Jan. 6, APH leaders moved Austin-Travis County into the highest stage of the COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, Stage 5.
Leaders monitor the 7-day moving average of new hospital admissions, community transmission rate and positivity rate when determining COVID-19 risk-based guidelines staging. The area entered Stage 5 territory on Jan. 4, and the move was officially announced two days later.
As of Wednesday, Austin's 7-day moving average of new hospital admissions was 110, the community transmission rate was 1,254 and the positivity rate is nearly 33%.
“From teachers, cashiers and cooks to nurses, techs and EMS, there’s never been a greater risk for all of us in the community to catch COVID-19, and our way of life is in danger because of it,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “We must take as many precautions as possible to stop this spread. Wear well-fitting masks anytime you go out, get vaccinated and boosted and stay home if you feel sick.”
In Stage 5, high-risk individuals are advised to not gather with people outside their households and low-risk individuals are advised to wear a mask when doing so. These recommendations are the same regardless of whether you're indoors or outdoors.
Under Stage 5, high-risk individuals are also advised to only travel for essential services or purposes and to use takeout and/or curbside shopping.
“Since the start of the pandemic in Austin, the City has distributed nearly $50 million in direct financial support to local businesses, employees and critical service industries,” explained Veronica Briseño, Austin’s chief economic recovery officer. “We are preparing another round of relief for 2022 – including new grants and emergency funding programs, workforce development classes and childcare support initiatives.”
The City of Austin is preparing to distribute 96,000 face masks to local, small businesses to help bolster PPE resources available to protect employees and customers, officials said. More details about the mask distribution will be announced in the coming days.
The City of Austin’s Economic Development Department continues to aid Austin workers, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through financial assistance and programming. Virtual one-on-one classes and coaching resources are available for those looking to pivot due to the pandemic. Business guidance, recovery grants and local policy updates are available online at www.ATXrecovers.com.
A spokesperson for Gov. Abbott's office sent KVUE the following statement:
“This municipal order is preempted by Executive Orders GA-38, GA-39, and GA-40 – all of which remain in full effect. Any business would be within its legal rights to ignore this municipal order. Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility. Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated. The Governor's executive orders, again having the full force and effect of law, are enforceable by state and local law enforcement, and our office continues working with the Office of the Attorney General to protect the rights and freedoms of all Texans. The best defense against this virus is the COVID vaccines, and we continue to strongly encourage all eligible Texans to get vaccinated.”
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