Austin Enters Stage 4 COVID-19

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.

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Austin Moves to Stage 3 Covid-19 Risk Level

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 hello@ibuyaustin.com.

Governor’s Order (GA32) Drops Business Capacity to 50%

On January 10, the Governor of Texas announced additional COVID-19 occupancy restrictions due to worsening conditions in the region. Under Order GA 32, if any area has COVID-19 hospitalizations that represent 15% of overall hospitalizations for seven consecutive days, additional restrictions on businesses and hospitals must occur. Austin-Travis County is part of Trauma Service Area O, which encompasses 11 counties in Central Texas and is effected by this new order.

The restrictions outlined in GA 32 are required and are not optional for local jurisdictions. Businesses, including restaurants and retail, are required to move to 50% occupancy (from 75% occupancy). Additionally, hospitals are required to stop elective surgeries.

In a statement Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority, said “we are incredibly concerned that our area has hit the hospitalization rate which has resulted in the rollback on the occupancy of businesses. The projections have been concerning for some time, and this is just the latest reminder that Austin-Travis County is experiencing a deadly surge in cases as a result of holiday gatherings and gatherings thereafter. The additional restrictions placed by GA 32 alone, though, will not be enough to counterbalance this surge in cases and hospitalizations. In other jurisdictions that hit this point prior to the Austin area, cases and hospitalizations continue their uncontrolled rise. Dallas/Fort Worth is at 27%, San Antonio at 22%, and Houston at almost 20% and all three continue to rise. We need every person in this community to understand that exceeding our hospital capacity is now inevitable, but how far we exceed that capacity depends on all of us. Today is the day to decide to stay home and reduce risk to save our hospitals and save lives.”

This announcement comes one day after Austin-Travis County activated an Alternate Care Site (ACS) to take specific COVID-19 low-acuity patients in order to relieve stress on local hospitals. Stephanie Hayden, Austin Public Health Director, warns residents that “it is critically important that everyone follow protective measures at this time. Wearing a mask, washing your hands, watching your distance, and avoiding gatherings have been lifesaving measures throughout this pandemic. We will not be able to vaccinate or enforce our way out of the surge already happening, so we need to take it upon ourselves to protect our community.”

Questions about details of the Governor’s Order or the Governor’s announcement should be directed to the Governor’s Office and more information about COVID-19, visit AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.

Shop the Block Program Extended To June 2021

The City of Austin has extended the Shop the Block pilot program until June 2021 to help small businesses continue operations during COVID-19 restrictions. This pilot program, brought forth by Councilmember Pool, was originally conceived and implemented in the summer of 2020. The program allows food, beverage, and retail businesses to apply for a 6 month permit to expand their operations outdoors onto private parking lots, public sidewalks, public parking spaces, or roads and alleyways in front of their establishments to expand their ability to safely serve customers.

These permits are quick to apply for and affordable so that they are accessible to all business owners. The City has dedicated Austin Center for Events staff ready to help navigate the application and provide support. Contact them before you submit your application to ask questions, review site plans, or schedule a site visit. Email specialevents@austintexas.gov for help. Step by step directions and more resources are available at AustinTexas.gov/ShopTheBlock.

Austin Live Music Preservation Fund Open

Good news for live music venues in danger of closing: the City of Austin Economic Development Department has opened applications for emergency relief grants from the Austin Live Music Preservation Fund, for which $5 million was mobilized through the Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors (SAVES) resolution, originally announced in September. The funds will be administered by The Long Center For The Performing Arts.

Eligible live music venues must be located in a City of Austin Council District and must meet or exceed the City’s COVID-19 safety guidelines. For those in immediate danger of closing, $20k grants will be available this month, with up to $140k in additional funding (up to $40k monthly) available for those who qualify. Legal and accounting services, real estate advice and guidance on lease negotiations, and other professional services and long-term planning from community experts will also be available to venues receiving emergency funding.

For eligibility guidelines and application, visit www.thelongcenter.org/saveaustinvenues. For questions and application assistance, contact the Long Center by email at saveaustinvenues@thelongcenter.org or by phone 512-457-5181.

Applications close Monday, January 11, 2021 at 5 p.m.

SAVES Fund Update

In October, the Austin City Council approved Ordinance No. 20201001-052, which authorized the development of three grant programs that together are referred to as Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors (SAVES). These programs seek to provide immediate relief for live music venues, art venues, restaurants and bars, and childcare facilities. 
The current plan is to expand and modify the Chapter 380 program to address the needs of the business community impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A draft of the Chapter 380: Recovery Lease Incentive Program is available here (see item 11).  While not yet finalized, the preliminary list of eligibility requirements hints at a broad scope of eligible types of businesses by including those in adjacent sectors to those named in the original resolution.
This item was postponed at the November 12th Austin City Council meeting and should be on the December 3rd agenda. Stay tuned for updates!
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Global pandemic or not, AIBA works tirelessly to support and advocate for Austin’s local business community. Reach out to us via email at hello@ibuyaustin.com