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Texas Restaurant Association raises concerns over City of Austin's customer log request

File image of a restaurant in North Austin. (CBS Austin)
File image of a restaurant in North Austin. (CBS Austin)
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A new "Stay Home" order for the city of Austin and Travis County now includes a recommendation for restaurants re-opening their dining rooms to keep a log of all their patrons.

The goal is for the city to be able to use this information for the purpose of contact tracing if there is a case that could be associated with someone who visits a restaurant.

"To me I think it's a good idea," said Central Texas resident Roderick Robinson.

Robinson says he already feels comfortable going to back inside restaurants that have now re-opened, but he says he would be willing to provide an email address if a restaurant wanted to log his visit.

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Yet, not all restaurant-goers feel the same way.

"That invades kind of our privacy," said Beatrice Torres. "I want to go to the restaurant to enjoy the food. I don't go there for someone to know where I've been, what time."

Lonesome Dove on Colorado St. has already implemented a logging system for both employees and patrons. "We take their temperature, we take their email, we know where they sit. And we know which server is taking care of them," said Lonesome Dove Owner Tim Love. "Obviously all of this [out of] precaution."

Love says they do not share email information with anyone and keep it safe in their computer system.

The Texas Restaurant Association, however, is not convinced other restaurants will want to comply with the city's request.

"There are a lot of ramifications that are not addressed here," said Kelsey Streufert, Vice President of Government Relation and Advocacy with Texas Restaurant Association. "We feel very strongly that for contact tracing to work it needs to be done by public health authorities with the proper training, and it needs to be done on a consistent statewide basis.

Streufert added, "We think that efforts like this that move the responsibility on to small businesses in particular, that that's not the right approach. They're not trained for this. Their customers are not expecting this to be their interaction."

Streufert says the TRA expressed concerns about this recommendation to the city and county during a meeting with the Central Texas for Business Task Force. "And as far as I recall every business that was asked raised some pretty consistent and serious concerns with it. So we were surprised to see it come into the order," said Streufert.

Streufert is also concerned that the city is only asking restaurants with an allowed capacity of 75 or less to participate. "If this truly is a public health need and it's important to contact tracing then we don't really understand why it's important in some businesses and not others," she said.

The city order states that in the absence of a log, Austin Public Health may need to release the locations and times where people with confirmed COVID-19 infections have been. The Texas Restaurant Association believes this shames the restaurant into having a log.

"People are concerned about being in some kind of database, about being on some list. And so I think this, unfortunately, encourages people to withhold information versus being forthright with the public health authorities."

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