Austin and Travis County have entered stage 4 of the Austin Public Health risk guidelines as Covid-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continue their recent rapid increase. This move comes just on the heels of the move to stage 3 a week ago. Officials are asking everyone to wear masks indoors, even if they’re partially or fully vaccinated.
These stage 4 guidelines include asking vaccinated residents to wear masks at private indoor gatherings and at outdoor gatherings if social distancing is not possible and masking while traveling, dining and shopping. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents should avoid private indoor and outdoor gatherings, and travel, dine and shop only if it is essential (with masks).
Advice for protecting your employees and your customers can be found here from the City of Austin’s Covid-19 Economic Recovery site: https://www.austintexas.gov/economicrecovery.
Freestyle Languages, founded by former French instructor Elizabeth Mack, has a mission to connect people through language. Being an incurable Francophile has its challenges in the middle of Texas, but as a UT alum she insists: everything is possible in Austin! However, the dynamics driving the Freestyle mission go well beyond France. Elizabeth considers the most extraordinary example of the potential for human connection and social change through language learning to be the one set by Nelson Mandela: he had learned Afrikaans during his 27-year imprisonment to successfully negotiate an end to Apartheid. “Speak to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head… speak to him in his own language, it goes to his heart,” said Mandela. Happily, Elizabeth reminds us, the human brain is designed specifically for language (yes, at any age!) and for connection.
At Texas State University, Elizabeth had grown increasingly disenchanted with the academic model, and before long she found herself ‘in trouble’ for using her own strategies over the mandated curriculum. Digging deeper, she discovered that language learning science is solid, yet nobody seems to use it. Armed with little more than a love for learning languages—no curriculum, instructors or financial backing—she left her position to start Freestyle in 2012.
During the span of eight years, Freestyle developed a methodology, curriculum and team while enjoying a growing community of adult Spanish, French and Italian learners. Success stories multiplied as learners enjoyed the stress-free and science-backed model: in the end, it’s all about having fun! (Bilingual wine tasting, anybody?) They had a good thing going. Then, COVID-19.
It is said that success can be found at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. While it’s hard to love any opportunity associated with this pandemic, here it was. In 2017, Freestyle had started working on an online model, ready to reach the world. With learning outcomes as a ‘North Star’, the team worked for two years on just one course to get it right, insisting on only using what results in success. For language learning online, it’s all about the ‘flipped’ model (recorded video in conjunction with live face-to-face virtual interaction.) Success and fun are not mutually exclusive online! With synchronous and asynchronous options, Freestyle now loves being 100% online. The pandemic has spared few small businesses, but despite the challenges, having learners and instructors across the country and globe, in both a B2C and now a thrivi ng B2B program, is a potential dream (out of a nightmare?)
Freestyle’s corporate ‘Language at Work’ program offers specialized language training ranging from fields such as construction (now with ESL for Spanish speakers) to UX design, as more firms incorporate a language strategy for the many competitive and team benefits. This program is very useful and really speaks to the spirit of Austin! Yes, beloved Austin… Freestyle considers itself a devout Austin local! Developing meaningful partnerships with local organizations who share a global vision (Whole Planet Foundation, Well Aware, Austin Vida, and Austin Opera to name a few) multiplies our ability to connect through language and enhance our cultural capital. C’est magnifique! #GoLocal #ThinkGlobal #WineTheGreatFluencyBuilder
On Thursday, July 15th, Austin city officials moved from Stage 2 to Stage 3 covid-19 risk based guidelines due to a rise in new cases, which doubled, and hospitalizations, which neared 20, in the preceding days. This move reflects the City’s stated goals to follow science and data to guide risk level decisions. No new recommendations for businesses were included in the announcement of this move. As a reminder, stage 3 recommendations include the following: fully vaccinated individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop without masking (if allowed by the business) and can travel with masking; partially vaccinated or unvaccinated low-risk individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dine, shop, and travel with masking; and partially vaccinated or unvaccinated high-risk individuals should avoid non-essential indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dining, shopping, and travel.
The guidelines are careful to note that “everyone should continue to follow any additional requirements of local businesses, venues, and schools regardless of vaccination status or stage,” which reinforces a business owner’s right to require masks if they choose. Reasons to continue to require masks include a desire to protect customers and employees who may not be eligible for vaccination and to help prevent the spread of the disease to children who do not yet have the ability to receive a Covid-10 vaccine. We published an editable flyer for business owners to use should they decide to continue to require masks. Request a copy here.
Questions about how to modify your operations? Issues with implementing or eliminating mask requirements with employees or customers? Ideas for best practices that you’d like to share? We are here for all of it – reach out at email@example.com.
The CDC’s announcement stating that fully vaccinated adults can safely resume indoor and outdoor activities in groups of any size without masks or distancing was a major milestone in the fight against coronavirus in the United States, and the latest in a set of sudden and unexpected decision points for local businesses. We heard from many owners that they felt pressure to again make sweeping changes to their operations in the wake of this announcement.
While everyone is thrilled to hear some good news on the COVID front, business owners need not rush to change their protocols in a matter of days. Having weathered many shifting regulations over the past year, we encourage business owners to take their time in coming up with how and when they choose to relax their mask policies. Those who feel comfortable dropping mask requirements entirely may still want a week or two to revamp policies and check in with employees. Request an editable copy of this handy flyer to post at your locations, or use this or similar language to set expectations for your customers.
As always, we are here to help you get through this next phase. Reach out here if there’s anything specific we can do to help as Austin and the rest of the country open back up