Austin Public Health is ramping up enforcement of local businesses that refuse to comply with pandemic-era precautions.
"I want to be very clear to restaurants and former bars that are now restaurants," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Austin City Council on Tuesday. "If they do not clean things up … we will take further action, including closure."
Until recently, APH has focused on education rather than enforcement. But with COVID caseloads rising across the state and country—and concern about spread related to the Thanksgiving holiday—the department has shifted gears, meeting with the city's code department and fire marshal's office to discuss citations and other measures.
"We have moved past warnings," APH Director Stephanie Hayden said at the same meeting. "We are moving at a pace of enforcement and issuing citations."
A spot check on Saturday turned up only about a 50% compliance rate, Escott said, and led to "a number of citations" being issued.
Although data from the city's code department shows that the number of complaints has largely held steady since the last surge, in June and July, residents continue to report non-compliance.
In the last week, 69 complaints were filed with the code department, with most related to face coverings, social distancing and occupancy limits. Some of the inspected businesses, including a lamp shop, restaurant and gas station, either complied voluntarily or were referred to another agency.
(City of Austin)
Escott has previously raised concerns about bars "masquerading as restaurants," thanks to a permitting "loophole" allowed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Although Texas Gov. Greg Abbott granted county judges the authority to reopen bars under certain conditions, Travis County officials have not done so.
"We simply cannot tolerate bad behavior at a time when we are really struggling to keep businesses open," Escott said.
Many businesses report that they are operating below the maximum capacity allowed under state orders and local recommendations and are struggling to keep their doors open.
Eric Silverstein, who owns The Peached Tortilla on Burnet Road and Bar Peached on West Sixth Street, said he knows the virus is dangerous but feels restaurants are being unfairly scapegoated. "When the mayor and the city are like, 'restaurants are dangerous,' it's going to affect your business," he told Austonia last month.
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Communities are rallying together after an 18-year-old shot and killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Funds from organizations all around the state–including from Austin’s own Los Verdes–are being raised to support families affected by the tragedy. Here's how you can help.
If you are looking for ways to help, please consider donating blood. Your donation can help ensure we have supplies immediately available for the victims of this tragic shooting.— University Health (@UnivHealthSA) May 24, 2022
Our donor room has availability the rest of the week. Please schedule online: https://t.co/0F2lKDqYzO
Austin-area residents can donate blood with We Are Blood.
South Texas Blood & Tissue was able to send a total of 25 units of blood both to the school and local hospitals to support treatment. After an emergency blood drive on Wednesday, the blood center is hosting a Memorial Day blood drive and should have appointments opening the following week.
The largest blood transfuser in the San Antonio area, the University Health System, is also asking members of the community to donate blood. Appointments may be scarce due to demand.
The Los Verdes community is heartbroken at today's senseless act of gun violence in Uvalde that ended 15 lives too early. We are currently raising funds to support the families who lost loved ones today, and you can join by donating here. https://t.co/52L1ZtbSND— Los Verdes (@LosVerdesATX) May 24, 2022
There is a growing list of verified fundraisers through GoFundMe, where almost $2 million has been raised so far for families and victims of the tragedy.
- The VictimsFirst fundraiser is raising $2 million to provide “100% of what is collected” to the victims’ family members.
- Austin-based Los Verdes Supporter Group is raising $100,000 for the families “affected by the horrific school shooting at Robb Elementary.”
- Allison McCullough, the aunt of victim Makenna Lee Elrod, is raising $50,000 for her family.
- The Alithia Ramirez funeral fund is working on raising $8,000 for the young girl’s funeral.
- More are being added by the hour.
An official account with First State Bank has been set up for donations through UCISD to assist the families of this tragedy.— Uvalde CISD (@Uvalde_CISD) May 25, 2022
Please know that the FSB account, is the only verified location to make any monetary donations. No other source is currently recognized. pic.twitter.com/psQb6fD6Ls
Uvalde CISD has opened an account to support families of the victims with the First State Bank of Uvalde. Checks to donate should be made payable to the "Robb School Memorial Fund" or through Zelle at email@example.com.
The League of United Latin American Citizens has created a fund for victims, which it says will donate 100% to families and University Health has also organized the Uvalde Victims Relief Fund to help provide care for victims.H-E-B has also donated $500,000 to aid victims and is collecting donations for its Spirit of Giving Fund, which supports philanthropic efforts in the wake of Texas tragedies. Starting Wednesday, shoppers at H-E-B, Central Market, Joe V’s Smart Shop and Mi Tienda can donate at checkout or online.
By Patrick Svitek
Beto O'Rourke caused a dramatic scene on Wednesday when he angrily confronted Gov. Greg Abbott at his news conference about the Uvalde school shooting, yelling, "This is on you."
After Abbott was done giving his initial remarks, O'Rourke approached the stage and told Abbott he was "doing nothing" to combat gun violence. He said the Uvalde massacre, in which a gunman killed 19 children and two adults, was "totally predictable."
Some of the Republican officials onstage with Abbott quickly denounced O'Rourke, telling him to go away. Another man onstage used expletives to criticize O'Rourke for interrupting the event. O'Rourke was eventually escorted away amid the unruly scene.
“I can’t believe that you’re a sick son of a bitch that would come to a deal like this to make a political issue,” Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin told O'Rourke at one point.
.@BetoORourke just showed up and shook things up. @statesmanpic.twitter.com/Z1FtBwUEdJ
— Luz Moreno-Lozano 🦇 (@LuzMorenoLozano) May 25, 2022