Breaking News
More () »

Court will decide Thursday if New Year's dine-in curfew can be enforced, Austin mayor says

The Texas Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin and Travis County, calling their orders unlawful.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Tuesday night, the City of Austin and Travis County released orders restricting dine-in services from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Dec. 31 to Jan. 3.

However, the orders intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the holidays were not met with praise by Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. In fact, Paxton's office called the orders unlawful and filed a lawsuit against them.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined KVUE live at 5 p.m. Wednesday to answer questions on what's next, a day before the orders are set to go into effect.

Terri Gruca: Are Austin and Travis County's orders illegal?

Adler: We don't believe that it is. We think that it's proper and necessary. And, quite frankly, it's what we need to do in order to keep the community safe. The number of people in our ICUs has gone up almost 70% since Dec. 21 in just over a week. That's getting us up to 140 people in our ICUs tonight. We only have 200 ICU beds the hospitals told us to plan on that they could staff. The numbers are just going up so rapidly in so many different categories. We have to do everything that we can do to the fullest extent that we can do it to try to keep the community safe. And that's what we're going to try to do.

Attorney General Ken Paxon threatened to file a suit. Have you responded to his letter today?

The attorney general sent a letter and then we, the attorneys, all talked to each other. And the lawsuit has been filed to undo the orders that were entered by Judge Brown and myself. Ultimately, this question will be decided by a court tomorrow. My hope is that the court allows the order to go forward. That's to find that cities do have some power for communities to try to take care of themselves. But even if it goes the other way, we will have tried. And I would remind the community that just because the governor says you can do something doesn't mean that we have to do it. All of the health professionals, our doctors in the community are telling us we're at a crisis point. They are all recommending to us that we stay home on New Year's Eve, even if there ultimately is a legal right to be out late. We're asking the community not to take it.

So do you see the hypocrisy in some of this? I mean, you were the same person who told us to stay home over the holidays and then ended up spending some of the holidays with your family and relatives in another country. What do you say to people like that?

I think the numbers that are driving the action right now, the numbers that we're seeing, which are so much higher than they have ever been before. And when the numbers get to that high point, this community has stepped forward. We're now at the third time that the numbers have gone this high and it's when the numbers go this high that we need to act collectively. A 70%, nearly 70% increase in the occupancy in our ICUs is a concern for everyone, not only because we won't have the space for four patients who have COVID, but they'll start to crowd out the space available for people who have heart attacks or are involved in automobile accidents. That's why the doctors are coming to us right now, the physicians, the scientists, and say, "Please do everything within your power to try to stem the tide." I think it's those numbers that the community is going to be focusing on.

Speaking of numbers, I want to show you some of the numbers of the KVUE Defenders found after looking at how many businesses have been lost in the last year. Austin losing 1,685 businesses. This includes 81 bars, 66 restaurants, 43 retailers. Our nine-county region has lost over 7,000 businesses during the past year, about 13% of the number of businesses. And that's just through November. So, we know those numbers are going to continue to rise. What do you say to those business owners who say it is their right to do business, they're just trying to survive to put food on their own family's tables and the tables of the people who work for them?

There is no question. But this pandemic has caused huge losses and huge disruption and huge pain, both from a health perspective and from an economic perspective. You know, right now, this virus is the third-leading cause of death in our city. Twenty percent of all hospital beds in this state are filled with pandemic patients. There are so many people that are dying and we can control that. That said, there's no question but that businesses have suffered throughout the city in so many different ways. That's why we're trying to encourage people that if you're not going to be out at a restaurant this year, do takeout, do delivery, buy a gift card, overtip the wait staff that are helping you. 

There is no question but that this pandemic is causing huge hardship, and that's why as a city, we've been trying to get relief out to as many different kinds of businesses as we can. That's why we were grateful that the federal government has moved forward with a package. It's a third the size that I think they should have done in order to be able to really take care of people.

RELATED: Ready for the $600 second stimulus check? Here's the potential timeline

Shortly after Adler spoke with KVUE, Paxton released a statement about his lawsuit saying:

“Mayor Adler and Judge Brown do not have the authority to flout Gov. Abbott’s executive orders by shutting down businesses in Travis County and our state’s capital city. The fact that these two local leaders released their orders at night and on the eve of a major holiday shows how much contempt they have for Texans and local businesses. They think breaking the law is a game of running the clock before anyone can do anything about it. Texas is a law-and-order state, and these are lives and livelihoods that are at stake. I’ll continue to defend them against the arbitrariness of the mayor and county judge.”

On Dec. 31, a Travis County district judge sided with the City of Austin to keep the New Year holiday restrictions on dine-in services at Austin-Travis County bars and restaurants. 

Travis County Judge Andy Brown Released the following statement regarding today’s court ruling pertaining to County Judge Order 2020-24:

“My priority during this pandemic is to protect the health and safety of our community. I issued this order based on the advice of our health officials, including Dr. Mark Escott, and the alarming increase of COVID-19 cases in Travis County. Today’s ruling will help our community slow the spread of COVID-19, while allowing businesses to safely continue their operations through takeout, drive-thru, and delivery service options. I encourage everyone in Travis County to order food for takeout from a local restaurant and to celebrate the New Year safely at home tonight.”

Read the full order from District Judge Amy Clark Meachum here.


Woman shot in road rage incident, Austin police searching for suspect

When can Texans in Phase 1B get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Less than a third of available COVID-19 vaccines have been used in Texas, state data shows

Before You Leave, Check This Out