Austin-Travis County leaders say Gov. Abbott’s new order isn’t safe enough


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Both city of Austin and Travis County leaders are expressing concerns about Governor Greg Abbott’s order to begin reopening the state’s economy.

On Tuesday, Austin City Council members held a special work session to discuss the governor’s order. Travis County Commissioners also discussed it during their weekly commisioners court meeting.

Mayor Steve Adler said he’d been in contact with a number of mayors across the state who feel the same.

“I think the overwhelming impression from most of the mayors is that they wish the governor had waited another two or three weeks to do this,” Adler told council members. “So that we would be at a better place with testing, better place with tracking, better place with PPE.”

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt says the county does not meet federal guidelines for opening back up, with only a week of declining case numbers.

“Additionally, we’ve seen a tripling of the number of deaths in the last two weeks, which certainly does not meet the gating criteria of a two week decline in death rate,” Eckhardt said.

During Commissioners Court, county commissioners expressed fears that if cases spike again, local leaders may have to shut the community back down.

“I understand that it’s just horrible for the economy and for so many people that have lost their jobs and can’t pay bills, but I don’t have a clear sense for how you try and retreat once you’ve gone forward with reopening,” she said.

Local leaders said they plan to encourage people to go further than just following the governor’s new order, in order to protect themselves.

“Regardless of what the governor says, we have the ability as a community to establish our own norms,” Adler said.

Eckhardt and Adler both spoke of designing a new order that would be a guideline of sorts.

“A new Travis County order that we believe is in compliance with the governor’s order, but has a greater degree of specificity and has guidance documents that perhaps set a higher standard that we cannot enforce — cannot require — but at least we’ll speak with clarity about what we believe is a safer standard,” Eckhardt explained.

Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott added that the stricter local expectations could start with businesses still requiring people to wear masks if they want to enter.

“It’s concerning to me that we were preempted on the requirement,” Dr. Escott said. “Because if we want to stay open, if we want to keep people employed and businesses going, why would we then want to take away mechanisms that may help us do that?”

Adler proposed a way of recognizing and promoting businesses that follow guidelines for a higher community standard. One way he recommended doing that would be for the city to create signs for business owners following local guidelines to put outside of their establishments.

“To say, ‘Not only are we doing what the governor required, but what the local community wants done,’ so that anyone walking down the street or consumers can know who it is that’s helping us and who it is that, even if their conduct might be legal, might be something that we agree is reckless,” Adler said.

City and county leaders did not say Tuesday when they may introduce their new guideline orders.

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