Austin health official concerned about bars "masquerading as restaurants" to stay open amid COVID surge
As local caseloads climb, Austin's top health official raised concerned about a recent trend of bars "masquerading as restaurants" to get around pandemic orders.
Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, said bars offering "very minimal food services" have attracted large crowds on Sixth Street, and that they have remained open under a "loophole."
Although Texas Gov. Greg Abbott granted county judges the authority to reopen bars, under certain conditions, Travis County officials have not done so, citing the rising number of new COVID cases and related hospitalizations.
However, many local bars with on-site food service facilities, such as food trucks, have reclassified as restaurants, according to permit records from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Austonia reported in October that more than 200 bars had submitted paperwork proving they provided certain food services, allowing them to remain open at a reduced capacity.
This is concerning to Escott.
"We know the nature of a bar is that people are drinking alcohol," he said at a press conference on Thursday. "People are often face-to-face. Those two things combined for this pandemic creates a scenario that is very dangerous, particularly in a time when cases are rapidly increasing."
In Travis County, bars have only been allowed to reopen for a five-week period, from the end of the initial lockdown in mid-May through late June, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott imposed new statewide restrictions.
Although Escott acknowledged the burden of COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, he said the bar industry should "work hard to sort out how to do this better."
James S., a bartender and manager of a downtown bar who asked that the business not be named at the owner's request, said the bar did change its license to reclassify as a restaurant but that operations haven't changed much.
The bar, like many others around Austin, relies on food trucks to serve their grub.
"Licensed or not, it's the same because (food is) always available and we always close whenever the food trucks close regardless, so if there's no food available, we don't stay open," James said. "That was before everything had to be a restaurant as well."
James said the bar is strict to observe its sanitizing and mask policies and that he does not feel unsafe coming to work.
If bars had to shut down again, it would put a hole in his pocket.
"Being back open, we're trying to regain what we would have made, you know, especially being closed during South by Southwest," James said. "(Closing would) hurt my pocket a lot, because I'll have to go back to unemployment. Having to go back to that you know, that's not guaranteed. They tell you one thing, then you end up getting something else, and it's kind of hard to pay bills with."
Although COVID-19 cases are on the rise in many Texas jurisdictions, Abbott said earlier this week that another shut down is out of the question.
Bengie Beshear, co-owner of the Iron Bear, said in a September interview with Austonia that the business moved from West 8th Street to West 6th Street three weeks before the onset of COVID-19.
Until the pandemic arrived, business was booming. "Before COVID, on the weekends it was just constant, constant traffic," he said.
Once cases started occurring in Austin, Beshear said most customers complied with the new regulations, "but you still get the ones that come in late, they want to party and they want to, you know, act like it's still a bar and nothing's changed. Everything's changed and they have to remind themselves of that."
However, now that the bar has switched its license, Beshear has no intention of violating rules or operating his business in an unsafe way. He has seen bars forced to shut down in the area and said sustaining another shutdown would be devastating for the business.
"I'm on 6th Street, so my rent is sky high," Beshear said. "I've kind of drained all my options at this point. This is the kind of a last ditch thing with changing over to a restaurant. It'd be hard pressed to stay open much longer."
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So you want to buy a house?
To anyone trying to get on the "housing ladder," it's been a discouraging couple of years as prices skyrocketed in a market crowded with buyers bidding against each other for just about any available home.
Things may be calming down, with the Austin Board of REALTORS reporting fewer sales and more available homes this summer.
Mortgage rates have more than doubled in the last year, from around 3% to well over 6% on a 30-year fixed rate loan, getting even more of a bump this week after the Federal Reserve raised bank rates on Wednesday.
So how affordable are homes right now? That, of course, depends on what you want and how much you're able or willing to pay, but here are some rough estimates of what a typical buyer would pay to buy a $650,000 home, which would be considered "mid-price" in today's market.
Mortgage banker Chris Holland (NMLS 211033) of Austin's Sente Mortgage ran some numbers for Austonia to illustrate a typical purchase.
Holland says that while the 30-year fixed rate mortgage is often mentioned in the media, the most popular loan that he's seeing now is a 7/1 adjustable rate mortgage, which has a fixed rate for 7 years and then adjusts every year based on market rates, with a limit on how much it can increase each year. The interest is amortized over a 30-year period. Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) offer lower rates than fixed rate loans.
Here are the numbers, which are examples. In practice, exact numbers vary with a buyer's credit rating and overall financial situation, and with the rate, which can move up or down at any time.
- $650,000 home purchase price
- 7/1 ARM at 5.875%
- 5% down payment, equals $32,500
- 95% financed, equals $617,500
- $4,990 payment, including principle and interest (P&I), insurance, and property tax
- Typically, a borrower's debt to income ratio needs to be at or below 45%. So for this mortgage, a borrower, or borrowers, would need income of roughly $11,100/month, or $133,200/year. That number could be higher, depending on the buyer's outstanding credit balances on things like credit cards and car loans.
Holland says he's had a lot of clients approved for loans who were house hunting but have put that on hold, hoping prices come down.
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Packages and Ways to Stay
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Located just 5 miles from McLane Stadium, Camp Fimfo Waco is the perfect place to stay during home game weekends. Skip the stuffy hotel room and embrace the great outdoors before cheering on the Baylor Bears! Campers can purchase a Baylor Tailgating Package that includes a pre-game meal from Executive Chef Sean Kelley and transportation to and from the game! Chef Kelley will also be cooking up delicious, elevated tailgating meals near the stadium so make sure to check out The Plaid Plate food truck before the game.
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Don’t have an RV? Not a problem, Camp Fimfo Waco has cabins too! Book a Riverview Firewheel Cabin if you’re looking for an air-conditioned oasis for the whole family. Complete with a kitchen and private bathroom, this cabin can fit up to 10 people. Elevate your stay by adding on a golf cart or snag a private cabana by the pool for guaranteed shade. With wifi available throughout the park, you can stay connected during your stay!
Amenities and Activities
Camp Fimfo Waco
Camp Fimfo Waco features lots of amenities to fill your days with fun, whether you’re a kid or kid at heart. After challenging your friends to a game of pickleball, basketball, or mini golf, go for a dip in the resort-style, heated pool - open daily through October! Stay on the weekends through October to enjoy the interactive splash playground. With plenty of ways to burn off energy, like the jumping pillow or playground, you can be sure to end the day with a peaceful night around the campfire!
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