AUSTIN, Texas - COVID-19 orders in Austin now have some teeth to them.
The Austin City Council unanimously passed two measures that will enforce COVID-19 health and safety precautions.
“What we are voting on now is not a new order, it's enforcement ability for existing orders,” said councilmember Ann Kitchen.
Businesses can face a civil penalty, including going to court, for violating any health authority rule. An individual can get hit with up to a $2,000 fine for violating an order. An example would be not wearing a face-covering in a business.
"I hope as we have people are doing health inspections, and we have other city staff out in the community that we use the resources we can to identify when people are not following the orders,” said councilmember Greg Casar.
Councilmember Jimmy Flannigan stressed that the city doesn’t want things to get to a point where citations need to be issued in the first place.
“An officer may be the only one authorized to write the citation but that shouldn’t be a reason we don’t engage fire stations or code enforcement or other departments that can show up and try to get compliance without a citation being required,” he said.
“Our goal isn’t just issuing fines, our goal should be to get compliance in the community,” said Casar.
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The enforcement measures come as city leaders try to mull over the thought of moving to stage five restrictions. UT models show the virus has been spreading more slowly, however, Austin should not let its guard down.
“The COVID-19 transmission rate seems to have been slowing since early June however it is unclear whether current behavioral and policy changes will be sufficient to prevent unmanageable ICU and hospital surges,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, professor of integrative biology at UT Austin.
“I'd recommend that we transition to a darker shade of orange,” said interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott, in reference to the color-coded staging guidelines chart on the city’s website here. That would look something like phase one of the governor's reopening plan back in May.
“With respect to moving back to phase one. Judge Biscoe had indicated an intent to reach out to the governor asking him to go back to phase one, I’m going to join in that,” said Mayor Steve Adler.
As we sit in stage 4, city leaders are hoping Austin can comply for the greater good.
Adler had been floating the idea of a possible 35-day shutdown as well but Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that Mayor Adler should stay away from the idea of another shutdown and focus on enforcing rules that are currently in place.
Escott met with University of Texas modelers yesterday to decide about moving to Stage 5 but he stressed that the trajectory of the situation is up to people to keep each other safe.
In an open letter, Abbott said he's happy to hear Austin City Council is considering taking steps toward more enforcement at today's special called meeting.
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