Austin Mayor Steve Adler shuttered bars and restaurants in the state’s capital — effective as of noon Tuesday — on the heels of similar shutdowns in Dallas and Houston.
The partial shutdown aims to halt the spread of the new coronavirus. It is the latest blow to the state capital's economy, which is still reeling from the aftershocks of canceling South by Southwest, an annual weeklong festival and a staple for Austin. The move also limits gatherings of more than 10 people.
Mark Escott, the city’s interim health authority, said during a press conference Monday that restaurants will be open only for drive-through and pick-up services. Exemptions to the shutdown include “critical infrastructure” such as some government buildings, schools or colleges, grocery stores, pharmacies and hospitals.
“The measures that we’re taking today are not a result of a knee-jerk reaction, and they are not a result of fear,” Escott said.
Adler said the city is working with local banks to offer loans to businesses struggling to stay afloat and urged landlords, vendors and money lenders to “extend grace.” Adler also asked that Austinites continue ordering from local restaurants — and to tip a little extra.
“We recognize that that economic harm is really at this point a crisis that is every bit as large as the virus itself,” Adler said. “The larger goal is to help businesses bridge this gap. The old rules are out the window.”
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, called the move “courageous” and “painful” in a press release that also lambasted national leadership.
“With little national leadership, local governments must act. The pain for small businesses and their employees will be great; the inconvenience to the rest of us is not inconsiderable,” Doggett wrote. “These drastic steps are necessary because of multiple Trump Administration failures to heed warnings and prepare.”
“Today’s action represents the least worst alternative — to hunker down, maintain social distancing, care for one another, and work to make it through the storm,” Doggett added.
The move to limit gatherings to 10 people follows President Donald Trump's announcement of similar recommendations Monday evening. Previously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had advised limiting gatherings to 50 people.
The response from officials in the state’s two most populous cities was swift. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson ordered the closing of most city establishments while in Harris County, only bars were ordered to close.
Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, and South by Southwest have been financial supporters of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.