AUSTIN, Texas — Austin-Travis County has officially moved to Stage 5 of the risk-based coronavirus guidelines set by the health leaders. So, what does that mean for restaurants and other businesses?
In Stage 5 of the city's risk-based guidelines, everyone is advised to avoid all gatherings with anyone outside of your household, to avoid in-person dining and shopping and to avoid non-essential travel and trips outside your home. Under Stage 5, businesses, including restaurants, are also recommended to only operate through contactless options such as curbside and delivery.
At a press conference Dec. 23, Travis County Judge Andy Brown said leaders are asking businesses and restaurants to limit occupancy. The judge is asking restaurants to close indoor dining spaces and limit outdoor dining to 50% capacity. The judge is also asking retail businesses to limit indoor capacity to 50%.
For some owners, they feel like this is not the right move. Eric Silverstein with The Peached Tortilla and Bar Peached said he will look into the recommendations but doesn't expect to make any big changes.
"You know these restrictions, we certainly monitor and take them into account but we feel like we've created a safe dining environment," said Silverstein. "We feel good about what we're providing to not only our customers but our staff as well."
The Travis County judge is also suggesting businesses close between 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. There has not been a curfew imposed yet, but health leaders said they may consider imposing one before New Year's.
"If we cannot successfully slow the surge, we're going to need to consider all options to keep our community safe," Brown said.
When it comes to bars, Dr. Mark Escott said health leaders are concerned about businesses that may have a food service license but are "still functionally a bar."
Technically, bars are not allowed to open in Travis County, but a loophole allows bars to open if they operate as restaurants, meaning their food and alcohol sales are less than half of its total revenue. More than 260 businesses in the Austin area operate in this manner, according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
"There is face-to-face interaction and that happens over an extended period of time and with many different people," Escott said.
Bars are asked to enforce rules, which state that they follow occupancy limits, enforce mask-wearing indoors and discourage close contact such as dancing.
KVUE also reached out to local grocers to see what they have planned. Here are the responses we have received:
Per the city press release: The risk-based guidelines are not changes to local orders, rules or regulations for businesses; they are guidelines for individual actions and behaviors.
At H-E-B, our top priority is taking care of Texas and we are prepared to help our customers this holiday season, and every day, by continuing sanitation, requiring masks and social distancing measures. We are going above and beyond our already-strict protocols to sanitize our stores to create a safer shopping experience. We are sanitizing our stores and hard surfaces at higher frequency and customers can find hand sanitizer available throughout our stores, as well as basket wipes at every entrance.
To help assist with safety and social distancing in H-E-B stores, we are reminding customers to limit large family groups by sending one shopper per household when possible. Customers are encouraged to use H-E-B Curbside or Delivery and seniors can use H-E-B & Favor Senior Support Program. Seniors may also place orders through a dedicated phone line – staffed by H-E-B and Favor volunteers – Monday through Friday. Seniors (60+) can access the Senior Support Line by calling 1-833-397-0080.
For the safety of our fellow Austinites, Central Market will meter the number of customers during peak times. Fortunately, the lines move quickly.
For the Randalls stores in the Austin and the surrounding area, the following protocols remain in place:
- All who enter the store, including associates, customers, and vendors, are required to wear a face covering that covers the nose and mouth.
- All associates and vendors complete a health screening and temperature check prior to starting their shift or work within the store.
- Floor decals are in place throughout the store to indicate six feet of social distance.
- Enhanced cleaning protocols are in place, including shopping carts and other common touchpoints throughout the store.
- Occupancy levels are monitored to ensure occupancy is not higher than would be required to maintain social distance.
- Plexiglass is in place at check-out, customer service, and pharmacy counters.
- Several contactless payment options are available at check-out.
In addition to these protocols, we encourage customers to utilize our Delivery and Drive Up ‘N’ Go services, with no fees and a minimum of $30 for the order.
On Dec. 26, P. Terry's Burger Stand announced it would be closing all of its dining rooms due to Stage 5 restrictions. Its announcement can be read in full here.
Leaders said if citizens are concerned about businesses that are not following the guidelines, they should call 311. Citations will be issued when deemed necessary.
The current orders associated with Stage 5 can be viewed here. The orders do not constitute a change in regulations for the City of Austin, but instead serve to highlight strong recommendations that Austin Public Health, the City of Austin and Travis County encourage individuals, businesses and organizations to take.
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