Some Austin businesses are reinstating mask mandates after local health officials announced a shift to Stage 4 on Friday.
At this stage, all residents—including those who are vaccinated—are encouraged to wear masks while indoors and unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid nonessential trips, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines. These recommendations are unenforceable, however, after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in May prohibiting local government entities from issuing mask mandates.
But a handful of local businesses—including restaurants, retail establishments, universities and churches—have heeded local officials' recommendations by reinstating their own mandates, citing the Delta variant and breakthrough cases as reasons for the policy change.
Waterloo Records in downtown Austin and the Blue Starlite drive-in theater, which has three area locations, were among the earliest adopters, announcing new masking requirements on July 15, more than a week before local health officials announced the shift to Stage 4.
Unfortunately, with Covid infections rising in Austin, even some of the fully vaccinated getting infected, the uncertainty of the delta variant, and with Austin now in stage 3 on a collision course with stage 4 restrictions, we are going back to requiring masks at all times.— Waterloo Records (@WaterlooRecords) July 15, 2021
Attention patrons,— Blue Starlite (@UrbanDrivein) July 15, 2021
Due to the rising risk of the DELTA variant, and out of an abundance of caution, we will once again be enforcing a mask policy for all employees and guests. Thank you very much for your continued support of our little drive-in. https://t.co/Y8FAzHAWQY
BookPeople, in downtown Austin, soon followed suit.
Dear Readers,— BookPeople (@BookPeople) July 21, 2021
In order to keep our community safe from rising covid-19 cases in Austin we are now requiring masks from all employees, customers and vendors inside our store.
Thank you for understating and we hope to see y'all soon! pic.twitter.com/x0qXdJjxDy
Starting Monday, St. Edward's University in South Austin will require masks in indoor campus spaces.
With Austin's move to Stage 4, the university is requiring face coverings in campus indoor spaces to protect our community. This is effective on Monday, July 26th and applies to all community members and visitors regardless of vaccination status. Stay safe, Hilltoppers!— SEU Campus Safety (@SEUSafety) July 23, 2021
Retail establishments, including Method Hair in East Austin and Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy in North Austin, also joined in, citing the recent move to Stage 4.
Effective immediately, Dragon's Lair Austin is requiring masks for all guests and employees. No current changes to events at this time, but please stay tuned to social media for updates. If you have any questions about event changes, please email firstname.lastname@example.org pic.twitter.com/rmjKYPzYm4— Dragon's Lair Austin (@DLairAustin) July 23, 2021
At least a few restaurants, which have been especially hard hit during the pandemic, have reinstated masking requirements, including Justine's Brasserie in East Austin.
"This was not an easy decision (we're tired on masks, too), but breakthrough Covid cases are real and growing," the restaurant wrote in a Saturday Instagram post. "We wish we could follow France's lead and ask diners, particularly those opting for the (still limited) indoor seating, for proof of inoculation. Abbott, however, has made it illegal for us to do so."
Joe's Bakery in East Austin and Quack's 43rd Street Bakery and Hyde Park are asking patrons to mask up.
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Northwest Austin held its worship services outside on Sunday, with socially distanced seating and masks required for all attendees, regardless of vaccination status.
Other businesses have taken the Stage 4 announcement to reiterate their existing masking requirements.
REMINDER: Masks are required on board ALL #CapMetro services regardless of vaccination status.— Capital Metro (@CapMetroATX) July 23, 2021
If you do not have a mask, disposable masks are available on board--just ask the operator.
Let's keep each other safe out there! #MaskUpATXpic.twitter.com/5wQihjwQyr
Although the aforementioned businesses have reissued mask mandates, they appear to be in the minority, with most letting customers decide whether to mask up—at least for now. These include major retailers like H-E-B, which made masks optional for fully vaccinated customers on June 9, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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As summer temperatures continue to increase, so does Austin's "Party Island"—a hundreds-strong army of kayakers and paddle boarders who gather each weekend in the middle of Lady Bird Lake.
Born from the pandemic, the swarm of paddleboarding partiers has continued to grow each summer and can be seen from the nearby Lamar Boulevard Bridge. And while "Party Island" certainly lives up to one half of its name, it's not actually an island at all: instead, it's located at a shallow sandbar near Lou Neff Point.
With beers, burgers from portable grills and even DJ turntables in hand, more friends and strangers continue to beat the heat in new ways at the distinct Austin hangout.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.