City Announces Limitations to Dine-In and Drink Service for New Year’s and Beyond

Sixth Street’s Soho Lounge (pictured here in May) has so far received four citations from the Fire Marshal for breaking COVID-19 restrictions. (photo by David Brendan Hall)

No one will be ringing in the new year at a bar, music venue, or restaurant in Austin. City officials have announced a 10:30pm curfew for dine-in food and beverage establishments that begins Thursday and extends through Sunday morning.

The county wide restrictions, limiting services between the hours of 10:30pm and 6am, were announced Tuesday evening. Restaurants, a classification that’s come to include bars and venues, will still be able to offer curbside, takeout, and deliveries during those hours, but not serve customers inside their place of business.

The new orders come less than a week after Austin moved to Stage 5 – the highest level of local pandemic restrictions.

In Tuesday’s press release, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott described the region’s COVID-19 infection rate as a “critical” situation and implored the public against gathering with people outside their household for New Year’s Eve.

“We are now experiencing uncontrolled widespread community transmission of COVID-19, particularly in circumstances where masking and distancing are not possible, making bars and similar establishments extremely concerning over this holiday weekend,” he said.

As of Dec. 28, there were only 35 available ICU beds across the 11-county Central Texas region.

New Year’s Eve ranks among the most profitable days of the year for Austin bars, which have been existing under a restaurant designation during the pandemic. Even after the city went into Stage 5 restrictions, many parties and concerts remained on the calendar for Thursday night.

The new orders go into effect Thursday, Dec. 31 at 10:30pm and expire Sunday, Jan. 3 at 6am, per city and county orders issued Tuesday evening.

Governor Greg Abbott, who has frequently butted heads with local elected leaders and public health officials over their COVID-19 response, took to his personal Twitter feed late Tuesday night to dispute their authority to issue said orders.

As of Dec. 29, the Texas Department of State Health Services reports 1,518,4999 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, with 26,990 new confirmed cases. The number of lab confirmed COVID-19 patients currently in Texas hospitals is 11,775, with only 653 available ICU beds still available. As of Dec. 25, more than 26,000 Texans who have tested positive for COVID-19 have died.

This is a developing story.