Austin's stay-at-home order enforceable by up to $1,000 fine and 6 months in jail; city says penalties are a last resort

With heavy restrictions on public gatherings in place, sizable crowds gathered on the free side of Barton Springs pool March 24, only hours before Austin's stay-at-home order went into effect. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
With heavy restrictions on public gatherings in place, sizable crowds gathered on the free side of Barton Springs pool March 24, only hours before Austin's stay-at-home order went into effect. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

With heavy restrictions on public gatherings in place, sizable crowds gathered on the free side of Barton Springs pool March 24, only hours before Austin's stay-at-home order went into effect. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

With the new shelter-in-place order in effect from March 25 through April 13, local authorities in Austin and its surrounding areas say they do have enforcement mechanisms available to ensure residents are following the stay-home order in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease that has impacted much of the globe.

As laid out in the official order, Austin peace officers, code inspectors and fire marshals are given enforcement authority. Those in violation can receive up to a $1,000 citation or be placed in jail for up to 180 days. During her announcement of the shelter-in-place order, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said authorities would reserve such penalties for "egregious" violations.


“At the end of the day, what [this] means is that we’re asking our community to stay home to the greatest extent possible,” Eckhardt said during the March 24 announcement of the order. The Austin area followed Dallas County and the city of Waco as Texas jurisdictions to issue lock-down orders. Similar orders have been issued on a statewide scale across the country.

Austin has been under strict restrictions on public gatherings since March 17, when Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced prohibitions on gathering of more than 10 people and shut dine-in service at all area bars and restaurants. Gov. Greg Abbott followed it up with a similar statewide decree two days later.


The announcement, nor the restrictions on gatherings already in place, did not stop substantial crowds of Austinites from gathering on what is known locally as the free side of Barton Springs Pool to take advantage of March 24's sunny and 90-degree weather. A city spokesperson said to combat crowds like this, it would rely on people reporting violations of the order to 311, Austin’s hotline for information and non-emergency calls, starting March 25. The spokesperson said the city's priority would be to "inform and educate" and would only use penalties as a "last resort."

According to Austin's order, only "essential businesses" as outlined in the order's text are allowed to stay open. Likewise, only social activity deemed essential, such as those related to health and safety, obtaining necessary services and supplies such as groceries, exercise that meets social distancing requirements and caretaking duties are permitted. Check here for more information on what is allowed and not allowed.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


MOST RECENT

Campuses in Austin ISD will be closes to in-person learning the week after Thanksgiving break. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
All Austin ISD classes to be held online through Dec. 4

The district will also be providing free COVID-19 tests to staff and families Dec. 2-4.

Bicycles for public use are docked at a MetroBike station on Lake Austin Boulevard. Austin's $460 million Proposition B will include funding for additional bicycle lanes through the city. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Breaking down Austin's $460 million bond for bike lanes, trails, sidewalks and more

The bond will fun a bridge over Pleasant Valley Road connecting two ends of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike trail, among other improvements.

There is no data to support whether homelessness has increased since March, according to Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, but ECHO executive director Matt Mollica said anecdotally, he believes the pandemic, job loss and lack of federal rent relief has led to more people locally experiencing homelessness. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
Nonprofits fighting to end homelessness in Austin say COVID-19 measures have created new challenges

Nonprofits have seen a greater need from Austin’s homeless community—for food, clothing, health care and hygiene resources—since March, and they are scrambling to fill those gaps.

Local health leaders are urging caution ahead of Thanksgiving. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Ahead of Thanksgiving, Travis County health officials urge caution

Austin Public Health leaders say gatherings with people outside one's household held indoors and without masks pose the greatest risk.

Sold sign
Central Austin continues trend of rising home prices in recent report

The monthly median housing price in October for Central Austin climbed to $625,000.

Harini Logan, 10, won the 66th annual Express-News Spelling Bee at the University of Texas at San Antonio downtown campus on March 17, 2019. For 2021, the event is slated to be held in March at the Brauntex Performing Arts Theatre in New Braunfels. (Photo by Jerry Lara, courtesy the San Antonio Express News)
New Braunfels to host regional spelling bee and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan for the state Nov. 23 for a vaccine he said could be available as soon as December. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

The vaccine could start being distributed "as early as next month," according to a Nov. 23 news release.

P. Terry’s Burger Stand is expected to open its long-awaited Pflugerville location this January. (Courtesy P. Terry's Burger Stand)
P. Terry's to open in Pflugerville in January and more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

The Bridge at Turtle Creek apartment complex will provide more than 300 affordable units upon completion in 2022. (Rendering courtesy Journeyman Group)
Austin development updates: Apartments could replace two Rainey Street bars, 307 affordable housing units coming to South First Street area

A 569-foot apartment complex could replace Javelina and Craft Bar. Meanwhile, development continues in the St. Elmo area.

Falafel—served in a pita or without one—is TLV's most ordered dish. (Courtesy TLV)
Still open for takeout, TLV is the lone restaurant operating in Fareground food hall

"We will make it through these tough times," said chef Berty Richter.

Trail of Lights (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Holiday markets, strolls, tree lightings and Trail of Lights: 18 events in the Austin area in November and December

The Trail of Lights has gone drive-thru this year, while the Blue Genie Art Bazaar is taking free, ticketed reservations to adhere to social distancing requirements.

Austin voters approved a $7.1 billion public transit expansion Nov. 3 that will add bus and rail in Austin. (Design by Miranda Baker/Community Impact Newspaper)
After historic public transportation vote, here is what's next for Project Connect in Austin

Shovels won't be hitting the ground on the light rail and downtown tunnel for years, but work is getting started now after Austinites approved the $7.1 billion plan Nov. 3.