The Reason Austin Restaurants Are Defying Texas COVID-19 Orders

Those who have been following the national discourse on COVID-19 precautions from employers — such as requiring vaccination of customers or employees — might be intrigued by the latest news in Texas. According to Eater, Texas state orders have essentially ditched all COVID-19 precautions, but the city of Austin has found a way around that. Instead, Austin-Travis County is encouraging businesses and restaurants to follow a different set of protocols to encourage safe practices without overstepping the state-level orders.

It all started January 13, when the Austin government released a notice sharing the county had hit its highest-ever positivity rate, nearly 33%. The city is experiencing shortages of workers and shifted its countywide COVID-19 orders to what they declare "stage 5 guidance," the highest level of precautions. That includes guidelines stating that "fully vaccinated and/or boosted individuals should continue to wear well-fitting masks when leaving their household and choose curbside/takeout options for dining. High-risk individuals should choose curbside or outdoor options for dining and travel only when essential." It also discourages "partially or unvaccinated individuals, and those who need their booster dose ... from gathering outside of the home and traveling," urging those individuals to wear masks and "get fully vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible."

In addition to issuing these recommendations for residents and tourists, the county's restaurants and other businesses are now required to post signage describing the COVID-19 recommendations, as well as any requirements they are employing to protect both customers and workers.

Austin's COVID measures are to protect the work force and the local economy

The Austin-Travis County government has made some adjustments to enable select businesses to continue practices outlawed by the state of Texas, such are requiring vaccinations or masking. According to Eater, businesses can only make vaccination or COVID-19 protection measures a requirement for employees, not customers. Government-backed businesses (like the post office) and residential buildings (like apartment high-rises) are not exempt from the state's orders, though; meaning only private businesses such as restaurants, shops, and movie theaters have the option to follow these stricter county issued orders.

"We are enabling businesses to better protect public health and to make sure they have enough healthy workers to stay open," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement issued by the government of Austin-Travis County. "Today's orders authorize businesses to choose for themselves whether they want to require masking or testing, or look at vaccinations, in their own facilities as a way to protect their customers and employees. This is an example of government getting out of the way of business," the mayor said. After providing around $50 million in economic relief funds, these measures are just the latest means for supporting the local economy that Austin-Travis County is using to uphold and maximize the chances of good health for the local workforce.