Business

Austin Venues Unite For More Safety Protocols as Texas Mask Mandate Expires

Empire Control Room
Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW

Exterior of the Empire Control Room during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival on March 17, 2016 in Austin, Texas.

"As consumers, we have the power to choose where we spend our time and money, and I urge everyone who feels the same way we do to join us and support the businesses that are committed to keeping us all Safe In Sound."

More than 30 music venues in Austin have come together to establish Safe In Sound, a public health code-of-conduct and safety program, following governor Greg Abbott's decision to lift the mask mandate for all of Texas. On March 2, Abbott rescinded many of his pandemic-related executive orders like the mask mandate and said all businesses would be allowed to open 100% beginning today, March 10.

The goal of Safe in Sound is to allow businesses the ability to operate responsibly and safely while protecting the health of patrons, staff, and performers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the most iconic venues in Austin's Red River Cultural District have signed onto the initiative including Empire Control Room & Garage, Mohawk, Cheer Up Charlies, Parish, Stubb's Bar-B-Q and more.

"The safety of our staff, performers, and patrons is of the utmost importance to our business at all times," said managing partner of Heard Presents including Empire Control Room and Garage, The Parish as well as founding board member of NIVA Stephen Sternschein in a release. "With that said, our city has made great strides in combating COVID-19 and we are closer than ever to being able to fully reopen safely; however, that day has not yet arrived. The limiting factor is vaccinations - once shots are widely available to everyone in our community, we should be able to fully reopen, but not before."

Members of the Safe In Sound program have pledged to: restructuring operations to accommodate for six feet physical distancing between individuals where possible, require employees and customers to wear facial coverings and appropriate PPE, ensure hand sanitizer and other appropriate disinfectant materials are readily available for employees and customers to use, conduct proper training for employees to maintain proper safety per industry guidelines, require that all employees and patrons exhibiting recognizable symptoms of COVID-19 as well as those with temperatures at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit stay home, and commit to daily sanitation of business facilities and high-touch areas.

"After hearing from countless workers about the new level of fear that this new mandate has instilled upon those who work and perform within the district, I refuse to stand by and not stand up for what I, and many others like me, believe to be right," said Red River Cultural District’s executive director Cody Cowan in a release. "We hope that these collective actions send a strong message to the public that although we want to reopen, we will only do so in a manner that provides a safe environment for all."

"I’m proud to stand with like-minded small business owners in pledging to continue to operate at a reduced capacity and to continue to require masks until the CDC provides clear guidance that this is no longer necessary," added Sternschein. "As a patron myself, my worst fear is unwittingly walking into an establishment that has chosen to remove the mask and social distancing requirements that are demonstrably effective in reducing the risk of infection. As consumers, we have the power to choose where we spend our time and money, and I urge everyone who feels the same way we do to join us and support the businesses that are committed to keeping us all Safe In Sound."

Sternschein credits Crowbar venue owner and NIVA Precinct Captain Tom DeGeorge for "his inspiration and advice in developing this initiative." DeGeorge has been a vocal proponent for COVID safety measures at small businesses like his in Florida -- a state where capacity limits were banned by Governor Ron DeSantis in September.

Safe in Sound is looking for other local businesses to join the program. Those interested in learning more about Safe In Sound are encouraged to email info@redriverculturaldistrict.org. Check out a full list of participating venues and live music companies below.