AUSTIN, Texas — The City and Travis County have been declared a local state of disaster for at least the next seven days over coronavirus concerns. That disaster declaration was again renewed for seven days on Tuesday.
Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt signed the declarations on Friday afternoon.
The City’s declaration also ordered the cancellation of South By Southwest (SXSW) because of the coronavirus.
“The disaster declaration puts us in a position to be most prepared on every level,” Adler said at a news conference late Friday.
But officials made it clear the state of disaster is not because there’s an emergency in Travis County. It’s a precautionary measure, because coronavirus threatens widespread illness and would require an emergency response.
The declaration also clears the way for overtime pay for public health employees and opens funding for additional resources if needed, like up to 24-hour operations.
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According to the City’s disaster declaration:
- "A large gathering of unidentifiable individuals without necessary mitigation for the spread of infection may pose a risk of the spread of infectious disease."
- "A declaration of local disaster includes the ability to take measures to reduce the possibility of exposure of the disease, control the risk and promote the health and safety of Austin residents."
Both declarations last for seven days but can be renewed as long as circumstances call for heightened awareness from health officials.
On Monday, city leaders expanded on what the declaration means for larger events across the area – specifically mass gatherings.
Until May 1, events with 2,500 or more people are prohibited unless organizers are able to assure Austin Public Health (APH) that mitigation plans for infectious diseases are in place. APH will conduct a risk assessment for every event of 2,500 or more. Each event will be evaluated case by case.
The likelihood of an event being canceled increases, the City says, if:
- There is great likelihood for extended close personal contact.
- The crowd density of the event is high.
- There are a significant number of travelers from areas currently experiencing person-to-person spread of COVID-19 domestically and internationally.
- There are a high number of guests coming from unknown locations.
- There are insufficient mechanisms in place to isolate, manage and address the needs of people should they become ill or an outbreak occur at the event.
- The plan to disseminate information about the need for basic hygiene practices is insufficient.
- There is an insufficient number of toilet facilities available for the event.
- There is an insufficient number and type of hand washing and sanitizing stations available for the event.
Venues and event planners in Austin for events with more than 2,500 people who have submitted an application for a special event permit will be contacted by local officials.
Venues with permanent permits with a capacity of 2,500 or more, or any other event organizers who do not have a special event permit application pending, should refer to the information here.
APH will be prioritizing spring festival events that are closest in date and largest in capacity.
Events that are smaller than 2,500 are currently unaffected by the new policies. However, this process is subject to change.
On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court is expected to vote on whether to extend it and will discuss other upcoming events, including Rodeo Austin and Luck Reunion.
The last City of Austin disaster declaration was in 2018 for a boil water notice.
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