Gillespie County officials released the county’s most up-to-date COVID-19 statistics Thursday which show the area’s uptick in cases continues to climb. As of January 13, the number of estimated active cases stands at 392, and there have been two additional COVID-19 related fatalities of permanent Gillespie County residents. The county’s official death toll is 86 since the pandemic began.
Additionally, Fredericksburg Independent School District has seen COVID-19 cases increase throughout the district this week. Currently, F.I.S.D. is reporting 65 active coronavirus cases.
Gillespie County mirrors the rest of the state which has been experiencing a third surge of coronavirus cases, almost all of which are due to the Omicron variant. On Wednesday, Texas reported a record high 61,000 new active cases and confirmed 711,683 active cases of the virus statewide, according to Texas Department of State Health Services. TX DSHS says that as of January 12, there are 11,571 hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients and the state’s cumulative COVID-19 death toll is 75,533.
Austin-Travis County leaders announced new orders aimed at businesses as case numbers and hospitalizations from COVID-19 continue to rise throughout Central Texas, requiring signage for all businesses when Austin-Travis County is in Stage 3, 4 and 5. Additional signage is also required for stores that have COVID-19 precautions in place. The orders are set to go into place on January 17 at noon.
The orders, signed by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, will also give businesses more authority to require people to follow COVID-19 precautions set by the business – which could include requiring employees to be vaccinated and boosted. The order states that businesses that do not comply could face a $1,000 fine every day that the order is not followed and that police officers, the Austin code department and the Austin Fire Marshal have the authority to enforce the new rules.
As expected, Governor Greg Abbott’s office says the new COVID-19 business orders are preempted by executive orders signed by the governor last year and do not need to be followed. “Any business would be within its legal rights to ignore this municipal order,” said Nan Tolson, a spokesperson for Abbott.
Abbott signed into law an executive order that does not allow local government-issued mask mandates or business restrictions, with the executive order put into place in July 2021. “The Governor’s executive orders, again having the full force and effect of law, are enforceable by state and local law enforcement, and our office continues working with the Office of the Attorney General to protect the rights and freedoms of all Texans. The best defense against this virus is the COVID vaccines, and we continue to strongly encourage all eligible Texans to get vaccinated,” Tolson said.
Adler defended the city’s course of action saying, “Even if there was a conflict, the Third Court of Appeals in Austin, who just last week let the local orders take precedents over the governor’s order as it concerns local health questions, so I don’t see a conflict.”
Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job. The court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.