New Year’s Eve city curfew falls in line with governor's order to not shut down cities, Austin officials say
In response to the continued spike in COVID-19 cases and concerns over hospitals reaching capacity, Austin-Travis County leaders officially announced plans to implement a three-day curfew on dine-in food and beverage establishments to discourage large gatherings during New Year's weekend.
In a written statement, Mayor Steve Adler announced that restaurant and beverage operations are expected to close their dining rooms between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. The curfew will be in place beginning Dec. 31 and continuing through Jan. 3. Violation of this order could result in a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $1,000.
Under the curfew, venues may still operate between 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. using drive-thru, curbside pick-up, take-out or delivery services, according to the statement.
Austin officials are encouraging residents to take advantage of takeout and delivery services to support businesses, as New Year's Eve is normally one of the busiest nights of the year.
Despite the order not requiring a total shutdown, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded in a tweet yesterday saying: "This shutdown order by Austin isn't allowed. Period."
The Texas Attorney General's Office backed the governor by tweeting the "shutdown" is a violation of Abbott's Executive Order GA-32. The office added that Austin-Travis County "must rescind or modify their local orders immediately."
During a press conference on Wednesday, Adler said the curfew does not violate Abbott's Executive Order because it is an "operational constraint" and does not require restaurants and bars to shut down.
"The reason that we're doing this is because it focuses on the activity where people are together without wearing masks, and that's what the experts tell us is the single biggest point of potential risk," Adler said. "We have a narrowly tailored order with an emphasis on operational change."
Adler also said the order will be enforced with officers on patrol throughout the nights the curfew is in effect. However, he emphasized that the city cannot enforce its way to flattening the curve and the city is asking residents and businesses to do the right thing for their community.
"(Restaurants are) getting hit much greater than most other industries in the city," Adler said. "The people in these businesses are taking a severe and significant financial hit for the greater good and we as a community can help mitigate that."
With a 200% increase in hospitalization since the beginning of the month and ICU utilization up 50% in the last eight days, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said he is worried that Austin will enter the new year in a state of emergency.
"We're asking people to do the right thing," Escott said. "We're asking people to love your neighbors and to not hold those parties which we know are dangerous. We're in a time where we have to limit the risk as much as we can to avoid an overwhelming surge, where by the end of January we need 1,500 hospital beds and more than 500 ICU beds that we just don't have."
This story was updated to include details from the press conference earlier today.
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