AUSTIN (KXAN) — As of today, Wednesday March 25, Austin, Travis County and Williamson County’s stay at home orders are officially in effect.
Downtown Austin is a ghost town on the first day of the new policy, as shown by our photograph of usually busy Congress Avenue, taken on Wednesday morning.
The order means that people should not leave their home unless it is absolutely necessary – grocery shopping, for example, or someone who works an essential job.
At time of writing, there are 98 cases of COVID-19 in Travis County and 133 in total in Central Texas.
KXAN has received a number of questions from viewers about the stay at home order, and under what circumstances they are allowed to leave the home.
Here’s what you can and can’t do while the order is in place.
What does the order actually say?
Under the terms of the order, all non-essential businesses should close. Additionally, all gatherings outside a single household, both private and public, are prohibited.
What you can do during the stay at home order
Health and safety: You are allowed to leave your home to get medicine or anything directly involving the health and safety of anyone in your household, including pets.
Necessary supplies and services: You can go to the grocery store for food, get supplies so you can work from home and buy household consumer products including those that “maintain the safety, sanitation and operation of a residence.”
Outdoor activity: If you practice social distancing and stay at least six feet apart from other people, you are allowed outdoors for exercise. Use of the City of Austin’s playgrounds and exercise equipment stations are prohibited, but trails and parks will remain open.
Certain types of work: You can continue to work if your job is deemed essential.
Take care of others: Anyone that needs to leave their home to take care of a family member or pet at another residence can do so.
What is a non-essential business?
KXAN detailed the businesses that will be allowed to remain open during the order after it was announced Tuesday. Click here to see the full list.
Can you be arrested for breaking the rules?
The order is enforceable, by peace officers, code enforcement inspectors and the fire marshal’s office. Violations will result in misdemeanor crimes with fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said that she expects criminal enforcement not to be needed, saying that enforcement is the “last option” and will only happen in the event of “something egregious.”
What will happen to schools?
School districts in Central Texas previously decided to extend spring break, remaining shut until at least April as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take shape.
And they could remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
Dr Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said that closing all schools for the remainder of the school year is a “basic and necessary step” to prevent more people getting sick.