AUSTIN — Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday criticized Austin officials for imposing what he called overly restrictive COVID-19 testing and social distancing requirements on sponsors of Thursday’s Veterans Day parade in the capital, and offered to replace a rally for them.
The privately sponsored event was canceled after organizers said they were unable to verify that the expected 30,000 attendees and attendees would each meet the standards.
The Republican governor, who has made bashing the Democrat-led city a hallmark of his administration, said it was too “strict” to provide proof of a crime within 72 hours of entering an outdoor event in downtown Austin. negative COVID-19 test.
He offered to host a veterans meeting on the South Steps of the Capitol, although the parade organizers said late Tuesday they had made a previous commitment that it would not.
“We are committed to ensuring that Veterans Day traditions in the capital are kept alive,” Abbott said in a written statement.
Although Abbott’s move appealed to patriotism and kept the heat on a favorite target, it came eight days after Austin officials were delighted to see their city ranked as the No. 2 best place for veterans in the 100 largest cities by WalletHub. of the country, measured by “20 key indicators of livability, affordability and veteran friendliness.”
A spokesman for Austin mayor Steve Adler declined to comment.
In a written statement, the Austin Center for Events, which sets licensing requirements for special events, said it “proactively” contacted organizers of the Veterans Day parade over the summer.
“On September 28, organizers informed ACE that they had decided to cancel the event citing health requirements for an event with 30,000 attendees. At the time, Austin was in phase 4 of the risk-based guidelines and the region had 25 ICU beds left to serve millions of Central Texans.” Austin is now in a lower risk category, Stage 3.
The center, which includes representatives from several city health, public safety and culture departments, said it meets with Austin Public Health at least monthly to consider revising the standards.
The latest version, dated October 20, says that for outdoor events expected to draw more than 2,500 people, organizers must screen all attendees and ensure they provide evidence of a negative test within the past three days and develop strategies for attendees to maintain at least one and a half meters of social distance.
Center spokeswoman Sara Henry said it is accepting screening plans from event organizers that require proof of COVID-19 vaccination “but we don’t need that.” Abbott has banned local governments from requiring anyone to receive a COVID-19 shot.
On its website, the Austin Veterans Parade Foundation, which sponsors the annual parade, said it was unable to meet the city’s requirements.
“The restrictions required the Austin Veteran Parade Foundation to verify all participants and spectators to either have a current Covid negative test or have been vaccinated,” the foundation said, incorrectly citing its immunization policy. “This is something we couldn’t do because we expected about 30,000 participants to come to the parade.”
Instead, it calls on people to attend the city’s dedication of a Veterans Pocket Park at 2200 Veterans Drive, near the American Legion next to Lady Bird Lake in west Austin.
Foundation board chairman Jim Darwin said the group should “respectfully decline” Abbott’s offer to hold a meeting at the Capitol, as it has already agreed to participate in the park’s dedication at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. o’clock.
Darwin said the foundation “determined that the unworkable Covid 19 rules imposed by the Austin Public Health Department were unreachable and too expensive to deal with. So the difficult and painful decision was made to cancel.”
For more than 57 years, the parade has been held on Veterans Day, according to the group’s website. The turnout averaged 20,000 people, with 200 floats, vehicles and organizations, it said. Under “normal” circumstances, beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Veterans Day, attendees will march from the Ann Richards Bridge north on Congress Avenue to the Capitol, it said. Last year the parade was canceled due to the pandemic, Darwin said.
Abbott said the city of Austin’s public health requirements for mass events are “exaggerated.”
“The City of Austin’s over-exaggerated COVID-19 requirements put a strain on major events such as the 2021 Veterans Day Parade, forcing the Austin Veterans Parade Foundation to cancel their annual event,” he said.
Abbott, who is seeking re-election next year to a third four-year term, faces challengers to his right in the March 1 gubernatorial primary. They have criticized him for COVID-19 policies that have closed businesses and required masks early in the pandemic. At the time, Abbott said he listened to medical and public health experts.
However, many local elected officials have questioned its allegiance to science when the governor issued a flurry of edicts banning them from demanding masks — and when vaccines became available last winter, the COVID-19 shot.