During a press conference this morning, city officials announced that Austin and Travis County has been bumped up to Stage 5 of the city’s risk-based COVID-19 restrictions for the first time during the pandemic.
Under Stage 5 recommendations, restaurants and bars are asked to roll back to only takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery services, which means shutting down their indoor dining areas. KUT reports that these businesses are also asked to limit their outdoor dining capacities to 50 percent, as well as voluntarily closing from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Stage 5 guidelines also recommend that Austinites stick to their household groups and only go out to eat and shop if such trips are deemed “essential,” although the guidelines don’t provide more specific information about what qualifies as such.
It should be noted, once again, that all Stage 5 guidelines are recommendations and not orders, which means that businesses are not required to follow these suggestions.
The heightened restrictions come in response to the city’s increasing number of novel coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the weeks since Thanksgiving. Earlier this week, the city’s seven-day moving average of new daily hospital admissions passed the threshold of 50, an indicator that triggered the move to Stage 5.
The development comes a week after Interim Medical Director and Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott had floated the idea of implementing a nightly curfew for restaurants and bars. Likewise, Austin, Travis County, and Austin Public Health (APH) released a combination of new and updated COVID-related regulations, and extended new health authority rules. Overall, they require that people wear masks, limit social groups to 10 people, and maintain social distancing between household groups and individuals, all through the spring.
Earlier this week, APH released holiday guidelines, rating seasonal activities by their associated risks. Crowded indoor parties and meals and caroling are considered high-risk activities; small outdoor gatherings are medium-risk, and virtual parties are low-risk.