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(Charlie L. Harper III)

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said that the city and county would extend the Stay Home-Work Safe orders when they expire on Friday, though they will be modified to comply with an executive order issued last week by Gov. Greg Abbott.

In the meantime, the current stay-at-home orders remain in effect, although certain elements are superseded by state rules.


"What we're talking about doing right here, right now, is trying to make the governor's order as successful as it can be," Adler said during a virtual press conference on Monday. "I want the governor's plan to succeed."

Abbott's order allowed certain businesses—including restaurants, movie theaters, malls and libraries—to reopen at limited capacity on May 1. It also explicitly prevented local jurisdictions from mandating that residents wear masks in public.

Before Abbott's order took effect, violating local mask orders was a criminal offense—though not an enforced one. (An April 13 press release issued by the city said the requirement was "substantially reliant on self-regulation," and a spokesperson for the Austin Police Department said Monday she didn't believe any citations were issued.)

Adler said he will continue and extend the local mask mandate, even though it is unenforceable.

"Well, we're going to keep face coverings mandatory in Austin and, in compliance with the Governor's new order, the only penalty for not wearing a face covering is that more people will get sick and some will die," Adler wrote in a May 2 email newsletter. "That should be penalty enough to keep us doing what's right by our community."

Nonetheless, the current city, county and state orders share some common ground.

Each prohibits social gatherings, although the language varies. The governor's order requires Texans to "minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household." Local orders, on the other hand, prohibit all gatherings of any number of people.

With modifications, the local orders are now aligned with the governor's order on the subject of trips, which are limited to essential activities and recently opened businesses. Despite the governor's go-ahead, many local businesses have chosen not to reopen because of financial considerations and concern they may have to close again.

Additionally, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk will determine when city facilities—such as the Austin Animal Center and Austin Public Library branches—will reopen. "The City Manager advised that CIty operations will remain unchanged from the previous weeks to support the phased-in approach of opening our economy, and he extended city facility closures through at least May 29, 2020," a city spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.

Local elected officials and Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott have raised concerns that the governor's reopening plan is rash and risks a second surge in COVID-19 cases. Updated modeling, released publicly last week, shows that if social distancing rates fall below 80%—from the current rate of around 90%—COVID-19 cases will surge and overwhelm area hospitals.

"We have built a parachute in this community that is working," Eckhardt said at the Monday press conference. "And we should not let go of that parachute until we hit the ground. We're not there yet."

While the local orders have been modified to comply with state rules, they may soon be overruled again. Last week, Abbott said he may initiate the second phase of his reopening plan as soon as May 18, as long as a second surge in COVID-19 cases does not occur.

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