Stay-at-home order FAQs: Answers to questions about child care, schools, outdoor exercise and more

A stay-at-home order was issued by local officials March 24. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
A stay-at-home order was issued by local officials March 24. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

A stay-at-home order was issued by local officials March 24. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Beginning March 25, the restrictions put in place by local governments to reduce physical interactions among residents and keep people at home due to the coronavirus will become more aggressive.

A stay-at-home order was issued by Austin, Travis County and Williamson County that is intended to reduce social contact by 90% in an effort to avoid stressing the local health care system. Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said statistical modeling suggests that in three to four weeks hospitals could reach capacity as the virus spreads.

Community Impact Newspaper reporters are answering readers' questions about what this means for them and their families. The text of the city order can be found here and the county order here. If you have additional questions, please reach out to us via social media or at [email protected].

What is a stay-at-home order?

The orders put in place by the city of Austin and Travis County are intended to further reduce the amount of physical contact among local residents. Previously, Austin had a limit on social gatherings of no more than 10 people. Now, social gatherings are prohibited. The city and county also were encouraging companies to have employees work from home. Now, all companies must have employees stay home unless they meet specific criteria as an essential business.


“At the end of the day, what [this] means is that we’re asking our community to stay home to the greatest extent possible,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said.

How long will the order last?

The order will go into effect March 24 at 11:59 p.m. and will remain in place until April 13, unless local officials take action to cut the order short or extend it to a later date.

For which activities can I leave my home?

The order outlines essential activities for which residents can leave home, including getting supplies or services from essential businesses; outdoor activities such as exercise or walking a pet; caring for others who cannot care for themselves; activities essential to health and safety such as medical appointments; and going to work for jobs considered essential businesses and services.

Which retail businesses are still open?

The order outlines essential retail stores and services that can remain open while following gathering limits and social distancing guidelines. Those businesses include grocery and liquor stores; hardware and supply stores; banks; pharmacies and medical services; restaurants for takeout and delivery services; gas stations; and laundry services. Shopping malls that don't meet the essential services criteria would have to close. Several area malls already announced closures.

Will my trash still get picked up?

Sanitation services, public works and other industries are considered "critical infrastructure," meaning those services will continue operating. In addition, the order exempts all "essential government functions," which includes police, fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel.

Will my mail still get delivered?

According to the U.S. Postal Service website, it is considered an essential service delivering critical items such as medication and Social Security checks, and therefore service will continue on after the order was declared. The city order specifically says it does not apply to the federal or state government.

How does this affect transportation?

After the order, local public transit agency Capital Metro tweeted it would continue to operate on the adjusted schedule it announced March 17. Airplanes, taxis and ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft are also allowed to continue operating because they provide "services necessary for the performance of essential activities," according to the order. However, these services remain open only for essential travel.

What other local services will remain open during the order?

Other business and government services that are classified as essential will also remain open with essential employees continuing to go to work. Those services include child care services for employees still required to go to work; in-home care and caregiving services; trade services such as plumbing and electricians; hotel and lodging facilities that practice social distancing standards; and news media.

How will local schools be impacted by the order?

Prior to the announcement, Austin ISD and other local school districts had already extended their spring breaks and put plans in place for distance learning once school resumes. There have been no official changes to those plans as of March 24, but Escott said in a March 24 press conference that county officials "don't see any way that schools will be able to return to [in-person] session this semester."

Nicholas Cicale - Jack Flagler