Austin health leaders encourage businesses to require mask-wearing

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County health officials addressed ongoing concerns related to an increase in local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, during Austin Public Health’s weekly press video conference Wednesday.

Interim Austin Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott, Austin Public Health Acting Director Adrienne Sturrup and APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette were present at Wednesday’s briefing.

Among the many topics discussed was the role businesses can play in limiting the spread of COVID-19. This comes as Governor Greg Abbott has removed the power of cities and counties to enforce requirements to wear masks, with many cities pleading the state with greater power to do so.

“If you decide, as your business, to not allow people in without masks, I think its an absolutely responsible thing to do,” Escott said. “For businesses to take a stand, not only to protect other customers in that business but to protect their employees.”

“I think this is a strong position that our business community needs to take in order to ensure we are doing as much as we can to mitigate that risk of spread, protect our community and ensure that those businesses can stay open,” he continued.

Escott noted that he watched the governor’s press conference yesterday and noted that the governor “indicated that enforcement of other aspects may be appropriate to further stem the spread of COVID-19.”

Escottt added that local health leaders are in discussion about potential enforcement actions.

“We certainly do not believe that there’s any role for criminalization of these actions,” Escott said, referring to mask wearing and social distancing. “But it is helpful for us to be ale to inform restaurants and bars and other businesses, ‘it’s OK for you to require masking, its enforceable.'”

Now that Bexar County has enacted a new order which, according to the Texas Tribune, requires businesses to have customers and employees wear masks when social distancing is not possible, Travis County Public Information Officer Hector Nieto says “Travis County is considering issuing a similar order.”

The interim Austin Health authority also said he was happy to hear the governor talk about the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and enforcement at bars not compliant with state guidance on COVID-19.

“I think that we as a city and county are also interested in how we can enforce those things,” Escott said.

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