Community gatherings of 250 people or more anywhere in Austin-Travis County have been prohibited for the next few weeks to slow the transmission of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 virus is contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact, especially in group settings, and the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a community-wide approach using “social distancing” to reduce illness and death, while minimizing social and economic impacts.
The ban on public or private gatherings, part of Orders adopted by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, take effect 2 a.m. Sunday, March 15, and will continue until at least May 1, 2020.
View the Austin Mayor’s Order here.
The Orders define community gatherings as any indoor or outdoor event that is likely to bring together 250 or more people at the same time in a single room or other confined or enclosed space, such as an auditorium, theatre, stadium arena or event center, meeting hall, conference center, large cafeteria, restaurant, nightclub/bar, or any other confined indoor or confined outdoor space.
Examples of events potentially included in the ban are weddings, religious gatherings, parties, funerals, sporting events, social events, conferences, and other large gatherings of 250 or more people.
The prohibition does not generally include office space or residential buildings, transit including airports, bus stations or terminals, grocery stores, shopping malls, or hospitals and medical offices and facilities. This is because while large numbers of people may be present it is considered unusual for them to be within arm’s length of one another for extended periods.
The decision to introduce these new restrictions on gatherings of 250 or more people was taken as part of a broader strategy to reduce individuals’ possibility of exposure to COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County. It follows Austin Public Health’s request on March 13 for event organizers to strongly consider cancelling or postponing events of that size.
“Collectively and individually, our decisions will determine how our health infrastructure can handle this virus,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “This community must do all we can to minimize person-to-person passage. This new order and the voluntary choices being made all over our city are positioning Austin for the best possible outcome. We’re a city that sticks together and rises to the occasion and we’ll do it this time, too.”
“With confirmed cases in Travis County, we must all do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County Judge. “This new order allows us to slow the spread and protect the health and safety of our community.”
“Many event organizers have already made the difficult decision to cancel events of this size, in the best interest of the community,” said interim Austin-Travis County health authority Dr. Mark Escott. “Now we need to make sure the City and County as a whole share the responsibility of minimizing the spread of this disease while it’s still in its relatively early stages in our area. And let me repeat – anyone who is feeling ill should stay home.”
Alongside the new ban on gatherings the Austin-Travis County Health Authority is recommending the community cancel, postpone, or not attend events or community gatherings with more than 125 people.
Austin Public Health (APH) epidemiologists and nurses are currently conducting contact tracing on hundreds of people believed to have come into contact with the three people tested positive in our area. All of the cases so far are related to travel outside Austin-Travis County.
The new Orders will be enforced by peace officers, City of Austin Code Department inspectors, and the Office of the Austin Fire Marshall from 7 a.m. Monday, March 16. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or jail of up to 180 days.
Businesses with questions about the new Orders are asked to call Austin 3-1-1.
The Health Authority has also made a number of other recommendations for vulnerable people, workplaces, schools and parents.
Individuals who are at the highest risk from COVID-19, including elderly people or those with underlying health conditions, are told to avoid community gatherings or events that will likely have 10 or more people.
Workplaces are urged to consider use of telecommuting options, suspend non-essential employee travel, minimize the number of employees working within arm’s length of one another, and encourage employees to stay home when they are sick. Anyone who is feeling ill – even if they are not aware of any contact with a COVID-19 case – should stay at home.
While there are no imminent plans to recommend closure of schools, they are advised to explore remote teaching and online options to continue learning, reschedule or cancel medium to large events that are not essential, develop a plan for citywide school closures, equip all classrooms with hand sanitizers and tissues, and frequently re-educate students and staff regarding personal hygiene measures.
Parents are urged to keep their children at home if they are sick, and prepare for citywide school closures.