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(James Jin/CC)

Claiming the interest of the mental health of the Austin community, local art, dance and yoga hall, Indra's Awarehouse said it is operating business the old-fashioned way: masks optional.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Indra's Awarehouse stated that it was open, hosting gatherings of various sizes and that "masks are encouraged and optional" and "social distancing is encouraged for those desiring a greater degree of safety."

For safety, Indra's Awarehouse said it would check temperatures at the door for special events or larger gatherings.

A city of Austin spokesperson said the city has received two complaints about Indra's Awarehouse: one on May 28, where police found no violation, and one on Dec. 13, which ended up being called off.

Angel Robinson, who made the initial post on Indra's Awarehouse's Facebook page, said she doesn't believe Indra's Awarehouse is violating any laws. She said she doesn't view Indra's Awarehouse as a business but instead as owner Randi Southard's home, in which Southard may have several people inside at a time. Robinson said groups usually range around 20 people.

"My understanding is that Indra's house is not subject to any sort of mask mandates," Robinson said. "I have spoken to the city about the laws. With respect, there are recommendations and then there are laws. And I spoke to the city with respect to recommendations and laws. We are following exactly the same laws and guidelines as other yoga studios in the area."

According to Austin Public Health, masks are mandated for everyone in public through the end of 2020, with the exception of sitting at a table while eating and drinking.

"The likelihood is that it's probably not following (health guidelines) but we can't for certain make that determination without actually observing the violation," the city spokesperson said. "Every business, every individual is entitled to due process so we don't want to make an assumption based on social media posts or video or anything like that, even if it is from the business itself."

Indra's Awarehouse stated in its Facebook post that it hoped to operate a space where everyone was welcome, but added that the community it provides "isn't for everyone" and encouraged those who are at higher risk of COVID-19 or experiencing a "high amount of fear in relation to connecting with other humans" to stay home.

The Facebook post erupted with almost 800 comments, ranging from praising Southard for supporting the community during a hard time to condemning the business for downplaying the pandemic.

"I believe you are genuinely caring about people's well-being while recognizing their autonomy and capacity for personal responsibility at the same time," Daniel Treiman responded.

Many people, however, felt the post was irresponsible.

"Masks and social distancing being optional hurts," Liz Green commented. "Almost all of us know several people that have gotten sick, and many of us have actually lost people from the virus. It seems like Indra's people value their own emotional and spiritual health more than the safety of everyone."

The business closed the post by saying it respects "your right to make health decisions for yourself."

"I spend my time with people who are in awareness of what is happening, who are taking ownership of the level of risk that they want to take on to themselves, and who are consenting adults about that level of risk," Robinson said. "This is a paradigm-shifting world where we're now having that at the fore of our conscious."

With cases on the rise in Austin, the city is under Stage 4 guidance. Many health professionals, including Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott, have said that, during this time, people shouldn't take their masks off when around people outside of their own household.

"The risk is when we take our masks off in front of other people," Escott said. "It is safe for individuals to go to a restaurant and have a meal with their family members and take their masks off while they're eating. The risk is when people are outside of their household and that mask comes off."


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