Local NewsJoint Shelter Order Issued by the City of Austin, Travis County, Williamson County

Local governments in Texas are more frequently issuing shelter orders to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
March 24, 2020
Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a shelter-in-place order — which some other cities and counties have also done, but the state as a whole has avoided.

The order, which goes into effect today at 11:59 pm is scheduled to last about three weeks.

The localities have been empowered, and outright encouraged, by the state to implement stricter measures they deem necessary. Austin has flirted with this idea as complications have developed surrounding the worldwide coronavirus pandemic — starting with when it canceled South-by-Southwest earlier this month.

Cementing “social distancing” practices are the main focus of the order, which consist of remaining six feet from other individuals at all times, washing one’s hands frequently for 20 seconds, regularly cleaning highly-trafficked surfaces, covering coughs and sneezes with the inside of one’s elbow, and not shaking hands.

But as the concerns have developed, localities have increasingly opted for shelter orders. So, what can Austin, Travis County, and Williamson County residents expect from the order?

The Texan Tumbler

Overall, it:

  • Requires citizens to stay at home;
  • “Non-essential” business operation must cease;
  • Prohibits public and private gatherings of “any number of people occurring outside a single residence;”
  • Prohibits all travel not deemed “essential.”

“Essential” activities include leaving one’s dwelling for health and safety reasons and to buy necessary supplies such as groceries; outdoor activity provided it meets “social distancing” practices (staying 6 feet apart from other individuals); taking care of family members.

“Essential businesses,” which are excluded from the operations prohibition, include healthcare entities, food production and supply businesses, gas stations, news media, financial institutions, restaurants for “off-campus consumption,” laundry services, and others.

The Austin Police Department is tasked with enforcement, and violations constitute a misdemeanor with penalties such as:

  • A fine not to exceed $1,000;
  • Jailtime not to exceed 180 days.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told the Statesman, “We are trying to strike the right balance between significantly reducing circulation in Travis County with our business community. I would strongly encourage people not to panic. This is not seal up your doors, seal up your windows approach.”

In a press conference on Tuesday, Adler said, “We have the ability to control what it is that happens in our community. This virus is a big deal and it is becoming more and more apparent over time.”

“If we all do what we can to keep ourselves safe, then we can weather this virus in our community. If we don’t, then we’ll be overwhelmed by the virus. We get to control that.”

Adler added that the community must decrease direct interactions with others by 90 percent. If that happens, then according to Adler, access to testing will be available and health officials will be able to cope with it.

“A lot of people are going to get it, it’s like the flu. But our job is to ensure we don’t all get it at once.”

According to the most up-to-date Texas Department of State Health Services numbers, Travis and Williamson Counties have a combined 35 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Local, state, and federal officials alike are trying to find the right balance to strike between preventing the spread of the virus and avoiding economic collapse.

Read the full order below:


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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 quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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