Welcome to Austonia, a new, locally owned news company reporting on news, business, and politics in Austin. Like what you see? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get our latest stories in your inbox.

Austin marketing adviser and cyclist Kimberly Jarboe never leaves the house without a bottle of hand sanitizer clipped to her belt loop.

Still, weeks of sheltering in place have worn her down.


And so, like many others aching for some sliver of their pre-pandemic lives, Jarboe has found little ways to let the world back in—while still wearing a mask, sanitizing her hands, playing it safe.

"I do have a very close circle of friends that I've been spending time with and acting fairly normal around," said Jarboe, who used to ride bikes with groups of hundreds of cyclists.

As the pandemic drags on and state leaders relax shutdown orders, even some of the most ardent social distancers in Austin are finding themselves adjusting their own boundaries.

Social media abounds with locals getting together but staying distant: Hair appointments, kayaks on Lady Bird Lake, multi-family picnics under separate trees, sparse backyard gatherings, and cautious date nights at restaurants with masked servers.

"We always ate out a lot and have missed going into restaurants for the full dining experience," said Jeannette Larson, who has restaurant reservations Wednesday for the first time since the shutdown. "I've been impressed by their safety measures, so we are going for it."

"Semi-socially distant" is how local attorney Lenore Shefman describes her occasional visits "with folks I trust."

"We still practice safety like washing hands, and nobody is coughing or sneezing, and we stay outside," Shefman said.

Austin politicians and health officials worry that some locals will take it too far.

"There's more disease in the community now than there has ever been," said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority. "That should be a warning sign to folks that the time for caution is not over."

The safety message still resonates with those who are finding what they say are reasonably safe loopholes.

Tara Hall, a content strategist who has been isolating alone, agreed to a getaway this weekend with a longtime travel companion taking the same precautions.

The two chose a secluded, vacant AirBnB to make contact tracing easier if either of them winds up exposed.

"I'm nervous but willing to take this mental break with one person I trust," she said. "It feels like I've had a two-and-a-half-month-week, in a way, and this will be my weekend. I can't wait to feel clear-headed after this trip, even if it's short-lived."

Jarboe and the others say they are simply coping with the reality that their old lives may not return for a long time.

"Previous to this, my world was pretty much all friends and bike rides," she said. "Having small 'safe' gatherings and bike rides with a handful of my closest friends helps me stay sane and gives me a small taste of what normal life used to be."

(Tito's Handmade Vodka)

Sponsored by Tito's Handmade Vodka

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Tito's Handmade Vodka
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. simple syrup
  • blackberries, muddled

Directions: Muddle blackberries in a shaker. Add Tito's Handmade Vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, and ice. Shake and strain into glass over crushed ice and garnish with blackberries.

Austin residents who have been participating in protests and other gatherings, or have been unable to socially distance during the pandemic, will be allowed to sign up for a free COVID-19 test starting Friday at the city's drive-thru testing site, according to a notice by Austin Public Health.

Keep Reading Show less

As local activists groups see a chance to gain support for defunding the Austin Police Department, we wanted to know where Austonia readers stood on the issue. Yesterday, we asked, "What should the City Council do about the APD budget?" and the results show 53% voted to add funding to APD.

Results of APD budget survey


Keep Reading Show less
(Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock)

"We have been listening and learning," reads a message on the Cedar Park Police Department's Facebook page.

It would be easy for Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale, whose community is more than 80% white, to look at the unrest happening in larger metro areas like Austin and decide it's not his problem.

Keep Reading Show less

Yesterday's protests in Austin brought out University of Texas football players. Players marched arm-in-arm with others from Royal-Memorial Stadium to the State Capitol to demonstrate against police brutality in the seventh day of Austin protests.

Keep Reading Show less
(Austonia staff)

Protesters shut down I-35 in Austin.

The Austin Police Department will no longer use the lead-filled fabric pillows known as bean bag rounds—a form of "less lethal" ammunition that was used against protesters last weekend and seriously injured several—in crowd situations, Chief Brian Manley told the City Council yesterday.

Keep Reading Show less