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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Despite a 2-0 deficit, there was a pot of gold for Austin FC after all as it celebrated its annual Pride Night with rainbows and a 2-2 comeback draw to FC Dallas Saturday night.
After three FC Dallas losses last season, the Dallas derby draw marks the first time Austin FC has tied against its Copa Texas rival. Austin continues to edge over FC Dallas as it sits at 3rd in the MLS West.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the match:
A somber start
Decked out in colorful hues for LBGTQ+ Pride, Verde fans started the match on a somber note as they held up banners to take a stand against gun violence before the match.
As the national anthem began, fans held up banners with the names of each child that was killed in the Uvalde school shooting and a plea to "end gun violence."
The supporters' section was also dotted with Pride flags and a "Bans off Our Bodies" banner in protest of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
FC Dallas earns a 2-0 lead
That sober tone continued onto the pitch. With midfielder Daniel Pereira's absence due to a red card, the Verde and Black lost two goals to FC Dallas by the 70th minute of play.
FC Dallas played it sneaky for the first half of the match, giving Austin FC plenty of room to hold possession as it waited to strike on a Verde error. That mentality proved dangerous for Austin as Dallas' Paul Arriola took advantage of Brad Stuver's deflection to score the first goal of the night in the 57th minute of play.
Dallas struck once more as Brandon Servant pushed past the Verde line to score the second goal of the match.
Austin FC strikes back
But energy quickly returned to Austin's favor thanks to Designated Player Sebastian Driussi, who scooted past several FC Dallas defenders alongside Moussa Djitte to snag an unlikely first goal for Austin.
A full Verde comeback
Austin's subs proved deadly as momentum returned to the home team toward the end of the match. A well-placed cross from Nick Lima—and a diving header from a fresh-legged Danny Hoesen—helped the team secure the draw with a second Verde goal in the 84th minute of play.
Hoesen, who was Austin's first starting striker last season, has now scored two goals with the team after a yearlong injury stuck him on the bench.
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Hours following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to an abortion, on Friday, about 1,000 people gathered in Republic Square with signs calling for change.
The rally, organized by the group Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights Texas, started at the federal courthouse on Republic Square on Friday at 5 p.m. before the crowd marched to the Texas Capitol. More protests are expected to ensue over the weekend.
People showed up with all types of signs like Mindy Moffa holding up, "Keep your filthy laws off my silky drawers."
Austin joined cities across the country that saw protests for a women's right to an abortion after the ruling.
According to a recent UT poll, 78% of Texas voters support abortion access in most cases.
Sabrina Talghade and Sofia Pellegrini held up signs directed at Texas laws. A Texas trigger law will ban all abortions from the moment of fertilization, starting 30 days after the ruling. When state legislators passed the trigger law last summer, it also passed laws for more protection of firearms, including the right to open carry without a permit.
Lili Enthal of Austin yells as around 1,000 Texans marched to the Texas Capitol.
From the Texas Capitol, Zoe Webb lets her voice be heard against the Supreme Court ruling.
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