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Adler says COVID-19 orders ensure Austin businesses have authority to impose stricter protective measures if they choose

The orders say Austin businesses could get a $1,000 fine for not posting COVID-19 signage. They also support businesses imposing additional rules for customers.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Public Health (APH) announced Thursday that businesses in Austin-Travis County will now be required to post signage that informs employees and customers of health and safety recommendations related to the local COVID-19 risk-based stages.

The requirement is part of the orders recently signed by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown. Businesses could be fined $1,000 if they do not post the required signage. Read more about the orders here

Adler joined KVUE's Jenni Lee on Thursday to discuss the new orders and what they mean for Austinites.

Jenni Lee: How does requiring businesses to put up the signs help fight COVID-19?

Mayor Steve Adler: You know, this variant that's in our city right now is incredibly contagious, and we're seeing a spike unlike anything we've seen this whole process, positivity levels higher than anything we've ever seen before ... and that's resulting in a real impact on our workforces. I mean, we are probably at this point [where we] know friends and family that have got the virus. But now we're seeing hospital workers not being able to work because they're sick. We're seeing businesses can't stay open full time because they don't have the employees. So anything that we can do as a community to slow down this virus so that everybody doesn't get it all at the same time is important. And we just wanted to make sure that businesses knew that they had the authority, if they chose to, to require masks in their places of business, to require testing in their place of business, if that's something that they wanted to do. If they choose to allow someone to show proof of vaccine, that's their choice and they get to do it. We want to make sure businesses knew they had that authority. And then we've asked them just to post a sign letting people know what they're doing, so that customer walking down the street can make their own choice with respect to what risks they want to assume or not. 

Lee: It's a $1,000 fine. For businesses that are already struggling, that's a steep fine. So a lot of these businesses may say that you're targeting them in this financial crisis of a time that may be too steep for them. What do you have to say to those businesses?

Adler: You know, the fine associated with this order is the same as it's been for every order that we've entered since, you know, beginning almost two years ago. Ultimately, we don't enforce these, making people pay fines and we haven't done that over the last two years. Ultimately, whether or not there's compliance with these kinds of orders are going to depend on what the community wants. If people are walking down the street, want their businesses to let them know what they're doing, then the customers are going to be asking for it and businesses will be will be putting it up. Certainly, we have those sanctions. But thus far over the last two years, we haven't had to to resort to those for compliance. We can't enforce our way into compliance on anything that we've been doing the last two years. But our community finds the right balance. Here, again in this case, we're not requiring businesses to do to adopt any protective measures. They get to decide what they want to do, and it's unclear for many businesses whether they had that ability or not. We wanted to make real clear that in Austin-Travis County, businesses can. This is government getting out of the way of businesses and letting businesses decide for themselves. And then just giving people notice or whatever it is they have chosen to do.    

Lee: I like that you said that because, for me, it seems like it's muddying the water because it's not a mandate, right? It's like it's an order asking businesses to ... if they want to require their customers and workers to wear masks, if they want to ... put up signs. So, it's a little bit confusing. Can you see where that can comes into play, where some people might interpret this order to ask businesses to do this may be a little bit confusing?

Adler: I don't think it's confusing if people just read what's written and talk about what's happened. What we do know is that we've had some businesses in our community that have chosen in their establishments to put on requirements that they want to see to protect their customers or employees, only to be threatened by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) with the loss of their liquor license when they're making a choice just for their own business. And that's created a confusion. That's created questions from businesses coming to me and saying, 'Look, do we have the authority to make our own choices in our own business or not?' So I thought that it was important to respond to those requests and make it clear that in Austin-Travis County, government is getting out of the way and businesses get to make that choice for themselves. And it was important to do that because there were orders coming at the State level that put that in doubt. 

Lee: And so was the only impetus for this order because those businesses were confused about what to do because the TABC's actions?

Adler: Correct.  

Lee: And speaking of state, what the State's doing, the governor just came out and said your order is in violation of his order. So it's a lot of back and forth from the government and here we go again. And that, to me, creates confusion, Mayor. 

Adler: You know, again, I think it's really unfortunate when anything like this gets politicized. What we were trying to do, and we'll continued to try to do, is to keep our community as safe as we can. The mortality rate in Austin is less than half of the state mortality rate. If the state had the same mortality rate that the City of Austin has, then over 35,000 Texans would still be alive. We're going to do what we can do here to keep our community as safe as possible. And in this instance, we're not requiring anybody to mask. We're not requiring anybody to test. We're just making clear that businesses get to do what they think is best in their business, and I don't know whether that will be challenged. I mean, it's possible that the State could come in and say 'businesses shouldn't be able to choose for themselves.' But my hope is that we keep government out of the way and let businesses decide that for themselves. 

WATCH: Austin Mayor Steve Adler joins KVUE to talk new COVID-19 orders

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