Austin officials: Citations still a last resort for bars who violate pandemic rules

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s top doctor says a big concern heading into New Year’s Eve is the spread of COVID-19 at bars.

But as cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, the city says fining these businesses is still a last resort.

Health officials have pointed to bars as a hotspot for the virus. Specifically, they point to bars that have converted to restaurants. Thousands of restaurants in Texas have done so to accommodate the governor’s orders that allow restaurants to open with restrictions.

According to Austin Code Enforcement data, the latest complaints about over-capacity and mask violations are dominated by bars and restaurants. But in the last few weeks, we couldn’t find any citations given out. If anything, education or a verbal warning was provided.

Last week, Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden said the city had moved to more of an “enforcement perspective.” At that time APH released a list of bars who had been cited by the city’s Fire Marshall for COVID-19 violations, but only after repeated warnings.

Health officials have also maintained the city cannot “enforce its way out” of these issues.

“This is a community effort, and we cannot possibly catch every violation,” said an Austin Public Health spokesperson. “We need individuals and businesses to recognize the importance of masking and social distancing and to comply, because they are part of a shared mission to keep Austin-Travis County healthy and safe.”

City leaders say they’re concerned there will be more violations as a result of New Year’s celebrations.

“We have been impressed with the overwhelming majority of businesses that have adapted and put procedures in place to keep our residents safe,” the APH spokesperson said. “That being said, there are a couple of businesses who continue to violate local orders even after multiple warnings and education attempts. Those businesses will face citations if they continue to violate orders.”

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