On March 21, 2020, City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler signed an order requiring businesses and people to take further action in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Disobeying the order can come at a cost: a $1,000 fine and/or up to 180 days in jail. Mayor Adler’s new order remains in effect until May 1, 2020.

What Does the Order Say?

Although the new order formalizes a lot of what we’ve already heard from the City of Austin, it also puts added responsibilities on retail stores going forward. Retail stores, such as grocery stores and gas stations, are now ordered to make sure that their patrons are at least 6 feet apart when lining up to enter their store or check out. Restaurants are ordered to close their indoor and outdoor dining areas. Bars are ordered to close common bar spaces and cannot allow anyone to consume alcohol on their premises.

Mayor Adler’s order also provides health and safety guidelines for employers, employees, allowable events, and others. Employers are not required to take the temperatures of their employees every day, but they are required to remove employees who have temperatures over 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Employers are also required to create and implement an infectious disease response plan.

While many already practiced social distancing, the order officially prohibits social gatherings of more than 10 people. If there is a gathering of more than 10 people for non-social events, such as going to work or to get groceries, social distancing practices must be followed.

How Will the City of Austin Enforce the New Order?

The new order gives Austin police officers, fire marshals, and city code inspectors enforcement authority. Violations of the order can be punished through civil or criminal enforcement. On the criminal side, failure to comply with the order is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of $1,000 and 180 days in jail.

It’s not entirely clear how authorities will determine who to punish since all parties now seem to be responsible for practicing social distancing. Will the grocery store be fined if a patron stands too close to another, or will the patron be fined and possibly arrested? Will first time violators receive warnings? The city’s enforcement priorities will become clear in the coming days and weeks of this crisis.

written by Alexis Guadarrama

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Austin, Texas 78701