In an emergency meeting on Thursday, the Austin City Council approved two new ordinances — one, a local version of the governor’s statewide mandate and the other, an enforcement ordinance for those new requirements.
Notably, the council upped the possible fine to $2,000 for violations of the mask order from the $250 specified by Governor Abbott’s. They also permitted civil action against businesses that do not follow health standards and extended the effective-to date until December 31, 2020.
“There was not a need for us to reinstitute a stay-at-home order,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said afterward, “but everyone needs to stay disciplined and wear masks to continue to bend the curve.”
Adler has maintained alarm over recent COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers, which have increased. The city is currently in Stage 4 of five in its warning system.
Governor Abbott sent a letter to Adler the day before, stating, “The City of Austin’s consideration additional enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with my Executive Orders is an important step toward reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus.”
City officials have especially highlighted hospitalizations as a point of concern, fretted by what they say is a potential overwhelming of bed capacity.
The Texan received hospitalization numbers from the three biggest hospital systems in Austin: Baylor Scott & White, Ascension Seton, and St. Davids. The three systems release joint numbers every Tuesday and Friday, and today’s numbers show a 2,473 total joint staffed bed capacity filled 77 percent.
Their collective ICU capacity is 483 which is 88 percent filled. These are general, and not coronavirus-specific totals. The hospitals declined to disclose how this compares to non-coronavirus operating capacities.
Texas 2036, which tracks COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers, shows Travis County hospital bed and ICU bed capacity is at 19 and 15 percent available, respectively. Available ventilator capacity, meanwhile, is at 63 percent.
The city’s current seven-day moving averages show 447 hospitalized, 145 in the ICU, and 76 on ventilators.
Vance Ginn, chief economist with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, pumped the brakes on the COVID-19 surge frenzy, telling KFYO’s Chad Hasty, “Hospitals have a lot of resource availability across the state.”
“In some areas, like Houston, there’s less available, but across the state, there is much more,” Ginn continued.
“One thing you often don’t hear,” he continued, “is that hospitals usually have about 90 percent of their beds full at any given point in time, much less than when COVID-19 is happening because it’s profitable for them to do so.”
The ordinance mandates facial coverings in businesses with a few exceptions, sets health standards for businesses to follow, and more intensely regulates procedures on construction sites.
It was rumored the council was considering a reclosure order, but ultimately opted only for a stricter mask mandate.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.