AUSTIN (KXAN) — As coronavirus cases continue surging across Texas, many are wondering: what happens now?
The City of Austin is taking a range of different actions related to COVID-19 this week — and it’s considering additional steps if the city reaches “Stage 5.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott joined KXAN News to address these possibilities in Austin and to answer some of your questions.
“I’ve been saying, local officials need to step up and enforce the executive orders that have been issued and intended to slow the spread in the state of Texas without having it close down,” Abbott said. “The measures that I saw the City of Austin contemplating were measures that actually would be enforcing these protocol standards.”
Abbott said that the reason it’s so important for Texans to wear masks is so that they can continue to engage and work — and to prevent another shutdown. Austin City Council will consider an item on Thursday that would make noncompliance with the mayor or governor’s orders nuisances that can be abated.
“The last thing that we can and should do is to close down. It’s my understanding that the Mayor has made clear that he understands that any attempt to close businesses back down into a lockdown or stay-at-home standard would be in contradiction to my executive order.”
The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions moved to 74.8 new admissions Tuesday, and local health officials said they are waiting for more data to become available before making an announcement to move to Stage 5.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the city is “right on the edge” of Stage 5 but he doesn’t anticipate moving into Stage 5 on Wednesday or Thursday. Behavioral changes by Austinites in recent weeks appear to have had a positive impact, according to the mayor.
“I don’t want to overstate the tone change,” Adler told KXAN. “My sense is that we don’t have to go into the red zone right away but we are on the edge which means the behaviors that we have shown we have to continue and probably increase.”
KXAN’s Robert Hadlock asked Abbott if he’d support Austin Public Health’s reccomendation that only essential workers return to work if Austin reaches Stage 5.
“If it’s something that people want to do,” Abbott said. “But not as a mandate. I’ve been very clear that people should have the freedom to go about their typical job.”
A 35-day shutdown is also potentially in play, but Gov. Greg Abbott says local officials cannot enact a shutdown without his permission. Adler had floated the idea of a 35-day shutdown but said that had to do with a question about how to open schools in the Fall, not Stage 5.
Over the weekend, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he asked Gov. Abbott to allow local jurisdictions to provide further enforcement to fight the spread of COVID-19. Abbott responded to the request during several interviews on Tuesday, saying local leaders need to be “better” and “smarter” in their enforcement of the current executive orders.
In the Wednesday interview, Abbott said that the state’s goal was not to have any type of “shutdown policy” or “stay-at-home policy.”
“[Our goal] is to make sure that people can engage economically, while also slowing the spread.”
The interview happened just as the state of Texas reached a grim goal: the most number of deaths in one day from COVID-19. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were a reported new 98 deaths.
Additionally, a record 9,610 hospitalizations were reported as of Wednesday afternoon.
When asked how Texans should prepare for another shutdown if cases continue rising, Abbott said:
“Obviously, this is horrible news today, about these deaths. One death is one too many, but 98 is obviously way to many. But when you look at the people who have been hospitalized over just the past couple of weeks, you can see that there may be more fatalities coming. What we need to do is we need to take action now… if we do enforce the standards in place, we will be able to reduce hospitalizations, we will be able to reduce deaths. If people wear masks, it will save lives.”