New Stay Home-Work Safe Order Asks Austin Businesses to Help Track the Spread
Austin and Travis County residents have been urged to stay the course and continue modifying their behavior to keep themselves and others safe from the spread of COVID-19 – particularly as person-to-person interactions increase following the Texas Governor’s Orders.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt warned that now – after the community has done so well in flattening the curve – is not the time to let up and allow the disease to overwhelm our community and our health care system.
On Monday, May 4, the Governor lifted restrictions on a range of high-contact businesses and activities and has signaled plans to continue to relax some rules that have so far helped to slow the spread of COVID-19 across Austin and Travis County.
Today, the Mayor and Judge adopted their own updated Orders which incorporate these actions into local rules – as legally required by State law.
But the local orders, which went into effect at 12 p.m., also include provisions aimed at sustaining support for the community’s Stay Home-Work Safe efforts.
The modified Orders continue to:
- Ask individuals to stay home and refrain from attending social gatherings of any size outside a single household, subject to stated exceptions.
- Require face coverings in public, while making it clear that no civil or criminal penalty will be imposed for failure to wear one.
- Ask individuals to practice social distancing, maintaining at least a six-foot distance from other individuals, and to wash their hands regularly with soap.
The Orders reflect concerns that residents are at higher risk of becoming infected by COVID-19 today than when the City and County first introduced its Stay Home Orders (PDF) on March 24.
Austin’s Order warns: “Relaxing stay-at-home measures too quickly and without adequate testing and tracing could result in an overwhelming surge of hospitalizations and deaths.”
To help prevent this, the Order states: “All individuals anywhere in the City of Austin are required to continue to stay at home or their place of residence except as allowed by this Order.”
View the City of Austin Order (PDF), which expires May 30, HERE.
View the Travis County Order (PDF), which expires June 15, HERE.
“This virus is as infectious today as it was a month ago – it spreads quickly,” said Mayor Adler. “Everybody should be minimizing physical interactions absolutely as much as they possibly can as we dip our toe to increase commercial and social interactions. That’s what this Order does.”
“We have to stay the course,” said Judge Eckhardt. “Even as we venture out, we must keep limiting our person-to-person contact. Our lives or someone else’s life depends on it. We've seen hospitalizations begin to rise again. Every day ask yourself what’s essential for me today? Who am I coming in contact with? How can I keep them safe?”
Activity Logs to Help Contact Tracing
Under Mayor Adler’s Order for the City of Austin, businesses that reopen are asked to help Austin Public Health track and trace customers who may have been exposed to COVID-19. All restaurants allowing dine-in service as well as all reopened services with allowed occupancy or capacity of 75 or less are encouraged to maintain an activity log of contact information for all inside or sit-down customers and employees, including the dates and times they were present in the business and the location where they sat or were served. In the absence of such a log, the Order states, Austin Public Health “may need to publicly release, without limitation and in its discretion, the location where people with confirmed infections have been, with relevant dates and timeframes, so as to otherwise trace contacts”.
The activity logs will enable APH epidemiologists to inform and test others who may have come into close proximity with an infected patient but who may not be aware they were exposed. Identifying contacts and ensuring they do not interact with others is critical to protect communities from further spread. If communities are unable to effectively isolate patients and ensure contacts can separate themselves from others, rapid community spread of COVID-19 is likely to increase to the point that strict mitigation strategies will again be needed to contain the virus.
APH currently has about 30 people assigned to case investigations, which include contact tracing, with a strategy to scale up this effort as needed. APH also receives additional help from local healthcare partners.
“We work to identify those infected and isolate them instead of isolating the entire community,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority. “We have to avoid an uncontrolled spread which could overwhelm our healthcare system and lead to excess deaths in our community.”
How Contact Tracing Works
- Details of a positive case are sent from Texas Department of State Health Services and directly from labs to APH epidemiologists, who begin an investigation.
- The person who has tested positive will be asked questions related to their exposure, including their whereabouts and close contacts, from the 14 days prior to their symptoms showing to the present.
- Contact tracers will then call the locations and contacts mentioned in the course of the investigation.
- Investigators have a variety of tools to obtain contact information of those who may have been exposed, including use of reservation lists, credit card receipts, sign-in sheets, and now activity logs.
- People who have been informed they may have been at risk of exposure can be tested and isolated if found to be positive.