Local order closing in-person dining will be enforced despite Gov. Abbott's opposition

Bars and restaurants in Austin and Travis County must close late-night, in-person dining from Dec. 31 through Jan. 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Bars and restaurants in Austin and Travis County must close late-night, in-person dining from Dec. 31 through Jan. 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Bars and restaurants in Austin and Travis County must close late-night, in-person dining from Dec. 31 through Jan. 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Update: Details added regarding Attorney General Ken Paxton's lawsuit in response to the local order.

Enforcement of a shut down for in-person dining in bars and restaurants within Austin and areas of Travis County will proceed beginning Dec. 31 in spite of pushback from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott sent out a message on Twitter in which he stated the order given Dec. 29 from Travis County and Austin, which mandates that bars and restaurants close on-site dining rooms between 10:30 p.m.-6 a.m. from Dec. 31 through Jan. 3, was an arbitrary shutdown of businesses and was not permitted.

However, during an online press briefing the morning of Dec. 30, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the local health order would be enforced to keep the community safe.

“We are not closing the restaurants at 10:30,” Adler said. “Restaurants can remain open and do delivery and takeout.”

Adler said the local community should do its part to support restaurant and bar owners.

“We are asking everyone to support the restaurants. Do take out; do delivery if you are able to do that,” he said. “These people and these businesses are taking a severe and significant financial hit for the greater good.”

The order states that business owners can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000 for not shutting down in-person dining during the specified time frame. However, it is not a general curfew; residents do not have to be inside at a certain hour of the night.

Recent actions taken by the city and county are needed to stem the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Travis County Judge Andy Brown said during the press briefing.

“This order is the most narrow order that we can think of,” Brown said. “Our hope, again, is that this and people’s effort countywide will help lead to lower numbers of people in the ICU because of COVID.”

The seven-day average of new local COVID-19 hospitalizations has more than doubled in the past month, from 30 as of Dec. 2 to 63.7 as of Dec. 28. Austin Public Health’s online dashboard reported that as of Dec. 30, the four-county area around Austin had 434 hospitalizations due to COVID-19, with 138 patients in the ICU and 72 on ventilators. Austin Public Health has reported 544 deaths due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

As of the morning of Dec. 30, Abbott’s most recent tweet from his account affirmed his opposition to the action taken by local leaders.

“This shutdown order by Austin isn’t allowed, period,” Abbott said in his tweet. “The city has the responsibility to enforce existing orders, not make new ones.”

Later on Dec. 30, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a petition for temporary injunction and temporary restraining order in Travis County District Court in an attempt to stop enforcement of the orders.

"Mayor Adler and Judge Brown do not have the authority to flout Gov. Abbott's executive orders by shutting down businesses in Travis County and our state's capital city," Paxton said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear whether a District Court Judge would hear the case before the orders go into effect at 10:30 p.m. Dec. 31.

By Greg Perliski
Greg edits Community Impact Newspaper's Lakeway/Lake Travis and Northwest Austin editions. During the course of his diverse career, he has written for newspapers, online publications and corporate communications teams. He earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin. You can reach him at [email protected]


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