Things To Do In Austin While Complying with Covid-19 Mandates

It’s been more than eight months as the first reported cases of COVID-19 in Austin issued a stay-home order, together with most communities across the nation and the world amid the worldwide pandemic. South by Southwest, a significant revenue source many restaurants depended on, was canceled, drastically ending a 34-year streak.

Austin restaurant needed to shut their dining rooms. Some readily transitioned into to-go operations, which were allowed because restaurants were considered essential businesses, but many struggled to find footing in a changing environment. Furloughed employees flocked to unemployment, bolstered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARE) at the end of March. But that increased advantage, worth $600 a week, expired at the start of August.

So much has taken place in the Austin restaurant scene since the stay home, work safe order was established in mid-March; we chose to chronicle the pandemic and its effects on the restaurant community in this extensive timeline.

As COVID-19 Concerns mount, Austin scraps major yearly events

January 20: A guy in Washington state becomes the first American to test positive for the virus. In his 30s, the man had lately returned from a visit to the area near Wuhan, China, where the virus had been discovered.

February 29: After the first American expires from the Seattle area and many others test positive, Washington’s state declares a state of emergency. Officials start to think about canceling sports events and shuttering schools.

March 4: The first case of coronavirus in Texas is an individual in Fort Bend who traveled out of the country.

March 6: It is the first time in 34 years, the Austin city officials canceled the South by Southwest event as the virus spread throughout the world. The event had a $355 million impact on the city last year. The sudden economy has a ripple effect on the business throughout the town, but the service sector.

March 10: A few days later, organizers for the Beef-centered occasion Live Fire announce that the April event will also be canceled. At that stage, there are just 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas and one in Austin.

Austin gets its first confirmed COVID-19 case; non-essential businesses are ordered closed.

March 13: That changes on March 13, when Austin health officials affirm the first two cases in town. A day after, Mayor Steve Adler announces a citywide ban on events with over 250 people.

March 15: Austin Public Health (APH) issues emergency rules for restaurants and food trucks geared toward limiting the spread. These rules include sanitizing surfaces each hour and ensuring workers and customers have access to hand sanitizer.

March 16: A guy in his late 90s is the first man in Texas to expire of this novel coronavirus. At the moment, the country has fewer than 70 reported cases.

March 17: After the leads of Dallas And Houston, Austin and Travis County close down restaurants and pubs. However, some, such as Asia Market, Nickel City, Franklin Barbecue, and Via 313, have already decided to close or provide only takeout services. Many restaurants that were capable of shifting to takeout versions have already done so. The city’s transportation agency changes 100 parking areas into temporary food pickup centers.

March 19: Austin Food & Wine, regarded as one of the larger citywide food events, postpones its April event until November. At some point, the festival is canceled altogether.

March 19: Texas Governor Greg Abbott orders all restaurants and pubs closed as of midnight. Delivery and pickup food orders are still permitted.

Image: fortune.com

March 20: Abbott signs a waiver permitting for to-go booze (though initially only cocktail kits and sealed liquor bottles are allowed ) with food sales to assist restaurants in continuing during the pandemic.

March 24: Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck Festival, scheduled to happen for its fourth season, is postponed to 2021. It could have brought a lineup of nationally famous chefs to Austin for Memorial Day Weekend.

March 24: Austin and Travis County orders for “stay home, work securely” that shuts down all non-essential business and bans all public gatherings. The purchase admits restaurant takeout operations as essential, but dining rooms stay closed.

March 27: A woman above 70 with “significant” underlying health conditions is the first person in Travis County to expire this novel coronavirus. Public health officials again requested people with symptoms to stay home.

March 31: Abbott extends his order shutting restaurants through the end of April. Violators risk a $1,000 fine.

The Austin Restaurant industry adjusts to the new ordinary.

April 13: APH starts a hotline for business owners with questions regarding regulations and issues regarding COVID-19. Restaurant owners have reported getting contradictory information regarding best practices.

April 13: Austin’s “remain home” order is extended till May. About 800 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Travis County at this stage.

April 17: The first biggest pandemic-related closure: All-hours diner staple Magnolia Cafe declares it’s going to shutter its Lake Austin place permanently because of the uncertainty created by the pandemic.

April 20: Eighty-seven years after it started as a gasoline station and beer pub, owners declare that Threadgill’s will permanently close because of the pandemic — a mere few days after it established a takeout operation, a significant loss to the regional live music scene.

Image: austinmonthly.com

Reopenings and Closings

May 1: As a part of a three-phase reopening plan, Abbott releases an executive order enabling restaurants to start at 25 percent capacity. The order replaces Austin’s”stay home” order, scheduled to remain in effect until May 8. Texas is among the first countries to reopen non-essential businesses and services, such as restaurant dining rooms.

May 5: Abbott later explains that the 25 percent capacity limit doesn’t apply to outside dining. Restaurants simply have to ensure that patrons maintain social space by sitting at tables spaced six feet apart.

May 8: Austin prolongs its “stay home” order through the end of May while allowing reopened businesses under the state order. It also asks restaurants to maintain logs of clients so the city can contract trace in the case of an outbreak, but this was not a requirement. Face masks are actively supported by the town but not required due to the governor’s order.

May 13: The City of Austin issues COVID-19 risk-based guidelines. Based on which five phases Austin finds itself and the individual’s risk category in question, people should think about preventing gatherings, avoiding non-essential travel, and preventing dining or shopping. The city was set in phase 3.

May 15: The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance declares a set of”soft opens” to prove to state and local leaders that the pub industry can reopen safely. The members ensure to follow CDC guidelines and support social distancing.

May 22: Abbott admits that Texas Bars will reopen at 25 percent capacity, assuming they follow social-distancing requirements. Restaurants can expand to half-indoor capacities.

May 26: Texas mall food courts are permitted to reopen.

May 29: Austin’s “stay home” order is prolonged through the midst of June; however, the move does not affect the reopening of restaurant dining rooms.

May 30: Nonprofit Good Works Austin issues its reopening agreement, including paid sick leave and requiring members to regularly change their air filters.

June 1: As Austin joins in on Nationwide protests started by killing George Floyd in Minneapolis, Austin restaurant chefs and owners stand in solidarity with protesters and Black Lives Matter. Five Austin restaurant owners chronicle their motives for joining the protests against police brutality and anti-black violence.

When East Austin Gelato store Gemelli has its door shattered throughout the local protests, owner Andrew Sabola states, “I care more about Black folks not getting killed by the authorities.” Although restaurants are already cash-strapped by this time, many come together to contribute to Black protesters, organizers, Black-owned restaurants, and associations supporting Black communities.

June 3: Gov. Greg Abbott’s Open Texas reopening strategy quickly enters phase three, meaning that Austin bars are permitted to reopen with 50 percent of the indoor capacity, and restaurants can expand to 75 percent indoor capacity. Meanwhile, the town dictates still prohibits gatherings of over 10 people.

Cases rise, and the face mask debacle.

Image: texastribune.org

June 15: Regardless of the state order, Austin urges citizens to stay at home and restaurants to limit their indoor capability to 25 percent, as part of some other expansion of their “stay home” order through mid-August. The appeal comes after a record high of 30 hospitalizations in one day. Austin and Travis County also went to Stage 4 of its risk-based guidelines. That means residents should avoid social gatherings with more than 10 individuals (or more than two to get high-risk residents), avoid unimportant travel, and just leave home to visit companies that were allowed to reopen by the nation.

June 15: Acknowledging how many restaurants are struggling, Austin provides a permitting program that will enable restaurants/businesses to temporarily expand to public outdoor places. Restaurants are told they could take over sidewalks, public parking spaces, roads, alleys, travel lanes, or private parking lots to make extra outdoor seating.

June 17: As a workaround to Abbott’s denial to pass a statewide face mask order, Austin declares that businesses must require that clients and workers wear masks.

June 23: The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) manages a statewide audit of pubs and restaurants. Four Austin bars discovered to have been flouting COVID-19 mitigation practices temporarily lose their liquor licenses.

June 27: Abbott agrees that Texas Restaurants and pubs can finally create and market their own mixed drinks for pickup and delivery as long as they are sealed and sold with meals.

June 29: As cases increase, Abbott suddenly announces he will shutter bars again, only days after he said there was “no reason to be alarmed.” Restaurants are ordered to revert back to working at 50 percent capacity.

July 2: Abbott eventually passes an executive order requiring face masks to be worn in people throughout the state of Texas.

July 14: The City of Austin extends its “stay home order,” with mask and social-distancing requirements through November.

July 17: Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) releases advice about a temporary license modification that would enable businesses to eliminate part of their properties from their alcohol licenses. That would imply breweries could start selling their wares again and allow customers to tailgate or picnic in beer gardens or patios. Austin Beer works and other areas begin to make plans to alter licenses and reopen.

July 21: Except not so quickly. Five days later, TABC reverses course and sDinning out in Austin during Covid-19tates that the provision did not apply to alcohol-based companies, such as breweries and bars, that were ordered closed by the governor. “TABC reversed course and essentially said, ‘psych, you can not do this,”’ shares Austin Beerworks co-founder Adam DeBower.

July 23: Unsurprisingly, with this stage, The German festival Wurstfest, famous for its German and Texan beer, food, and dance, is canceled. The 60-year-old occasion hasn’t been canceled before, even after a fire in 2019.

July 24: Breweries get some good information, finally. TABC revises its prior decision and announces it will change how its 51 percent designation is set. The new system will not include to-go sales, which will effectively enable taprooms to reopen.

July 24: Protesters in a rally organized by the Democratic Socialist of America’s Restaurant Organizing Project require an expansion of a nationwide expansion of unemployment insurance. The measure, a portion of the CARES Act, was scheduled to expire in August, and its closing would leave various restaurant employees and several other Austinites in the lurch. It hasn’t been revived.

Where Austin Stands Entering Winter

July 31: TABC admits that pubs can apply for restaurant allowing according to food requirements. That will enable bars that can show that they sold less than 51 percent alcohol since April, or they will sell less than 51% from the long run to reopen for business.

August 14: The Texas Tribune states that Abbott would think of reopening bars if the positivity rate is under 10 percent.

August 17: Austin’s stay-at-home order is extended again — this time until December. People should wear masks while inside, but not while they’re eating or drinking in a restaurant.

August 25: Another TABC amendment permits bars to apply for food and drink certificates to serve meals from food trucks or external vendors. To qualify, the pubs need to set up a dedicated space for preparing and storing the food.

August 15: Austin de-escalates to stage 3 of risk-based directions. However, health officials request the community to remain careful even though cases have begun to trend down.

September 1: The Restaurant Organizing Project plans another rally demanding a return to the expanded unemployment benefits and stocks with Eater, its strategies for a restaurant worker union.

September 12: The University of Texas Austin soccer team will play out the season, but the university declares the time-honored tailgating tradition is prohibited.

September 17: Abbott declares Texas restaurants will be permitted to expand to 75 percent dining capacities starting September 21. Bars will stay closed, and businesses must follow social-distancing guidelines — such as compulsory masks.

October 14: Around a month later, Abbott restarts bars for onsite services in 50 percent indoor capacity and infinite exterior capacity, but he leaves it up to the various county judges to really allow bars in their districts to reopen. Travis County disagrees with allowing bars to reopen, but many of its neighboring counties do this.