Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has invited military veterans in Austin, Texas to gather at the state capitol building after their Veterans Day parade was cancelled due to the city’s coronavirus restrictions.
“The City of Austin’s overreaching COVID requirements have forced the Austin Veterans Parade Foundation to cancel their annual event,” the Republican governor tweeted Tuesday. “I’m inviting them to host a rally on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol. We celebrate our nation’s heroes in Texas.”
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“This is something that we could not do as we anticipated some 30,000 attendees to the parade,” the parade organizers said in a statement. “We are hopeful that in 2022, the restrictions on public gatherings will be back to normal. In lue of the parade, we are working with the City of Austin and the Austin Veterans Commission to dedicate the Veterans Park on Nov. 11th.”
The parade organizers later announced that they have “respectfully declined” Abbott’s invitation and noted that they have already committed to an event dedicating Veterans Pocket Park in Austin at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, according to Fox 7 Austin.
Austinites responded on social media.
Q2 Stadium, where Austin FC plays its home games, seats more than 20,000 fans and has been operating at 100% capacity this season.
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“The Veterans Park will be the only event that the Austin Veterans Parade Foundation will be involved in this year,” the organization said. “It is our hope that we can have our Veterans Day parade and celebration next year and that everyone will stay safe on this Veterans Day!”
Census Bureau data from 2020 shows that roughly 1.4 million military veterans live in the state of Texas which represents 6.8% of the state’s overall population.
“It’s a slap in the face to those who served. It’s for an open air parade,” Luis Rodriguez, head of the Wind Therapy Motorcycle Freedom Riders, a military support group, told Axios. “They allowed Formula 1 to go ahead, and that had five times the number of people as the Super Bowl. They did nothing to shut that down. They’re playing politics with the honor of veterans and those who have served this country.”
The city of Austin gave Fox News Digital the following statement:
“Every year, Austin Center for Events (ACE) works with the Austin Veterans Parade Foundation, the event organizers of the Veterans Parade, as they plan for this important event to honor the American heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for our great country.
Over the summer, we proactively reached out to the event organizer to work through the event permitting process and help them understand health mitigation requirements for special events. The organizers did not submit a COVID-19 Health & Safety form to Austin Public Health for review. On September 28th, the organizers notified ACE that they decided to cancel the event citing the health requirements for an event with 30,000 attendees. At this time, Austin was in Stage 4 of the Risk Based Guidelines and the region had 25 ICU beds left to serve millions of Central Texans. The City is now working with the Parade Foundation on a ribbon cutting dedication ceremony for the Veteran’s Pocket Park.
ACE, which includes Austin Public Health (APH), reviews COVID-19 safety for special events. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ACE and APH have met regularly, at least every 30 days, to review safety requirements. Over the last 18 months, those requirements have evolved based on current conditions, including the Austin-Travis County Risk-Based Guidelines. A document, Bringing Events Back: Austin-Travis County COVID-19 Safety Guide for Venues & Special Events, was developed and is regularly updated to help indoor venues and outdoor events understand COVID safety at events. The current event guidelines which regulate events permitted by the Austin Center for Events are designed to create the safest environment possible.
Currently, an event must be able to follow the enhanced mitigation criteria:
· Conduct screening of all attendees including but not limited to requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of entering an event.
· Develop strategies for maintaining at least 6 feet of social distancing.
· Include “mask zones” in outdoor event areas where social distancing is not possible.
For indoor events with 1,000+ attendees, and outdoor events with 2,500+, the submitted Health and Safety Form must be approved by the Austin Public Health Department. An APH staff member will review an applicant’s form and either approve their plans or work with them on strengthening mitigation efforts so they can hold a safe event. As conditions improve, we will continue working with event organizers to implement measures that reduce the risk of spreading COVID.”