With COVID numbers in his state exploding, and the holidays approaching, the mayor of Austin, Texas, implored residents not to let down their guard and to stay home.
“We need to stay home if you can,” Steve Adler, a Democrat, said in a video posted to Facebook on Nov. 9. “Do everything you can to try and keep the numbers down. This is not the time to relax.”
But he left one thing out: The video was posted while he was in Cabo San Lucas, where he’d flown by private jet after hosting his daughter’s outdoor wedding of 20 guests in Austin days earlier.
That vacation with several other wedding attendees wasn’t revealed until it was reported by the Austin American-Statesman Wednesday.
In the Facebook address, Adler noted that coronavirus infections were going up but were not yet in a “red zone.” A week after Adler returned home from his trip, local health officials recommended against unneeded travel, according to the Statesman. And about two weeks after the broadcast, Texas and California broke nationwide records for the most COVID-19 cases recorded in a single day, according to the Washington Post; Texas logged almost 16,100 new infections Nov. 25.
Adler said he regretted the vacation and apologized in a follow-up Facebook video Wednesday.
After his daughter’s intimate wedding, Adler explained that a group of “mostly family” went to Mexico. (The Statesman reported that they stayed in a timeshare for about a week.) The mayor, who is currently in his second term, said the vacation took place during a “safer period” and that he hadn’t violated any rules. But he still didn’t want others to use his trip as an excuse to engage in riskier behaviors.
“I want you to know that I regret that travel,” Adler said. “I wouldn’t travel now. I didn’t over Thanksgiving, and I won’t over Christmas. No one should.”
Thanks to his mid-pandemic jaunt, Adler now joins the group of public officials who have seemingly ignored their own recommendations despite COVID-19 infections, deaths, and hospitalizations surging across the country.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom attended a dinner party with other households at a swanky Napa Valley restaurant in early November, which the Democrat has since described as a “bad mistake.” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock boarded a flight to Mississippi so he could visit family over the Thanksgiving holiday after telling residents to avoid travel when possible. He also called the trip a “mistake” in an interview with KUSA, an NBC affiliate in Denver.
Those actions have sparked outrage not just because so many Americans are stuck at home but also because the rule-flouting underscores a level of inequality that has permeated a year when millions of people have lost work, with swaths of the economy shuttered to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Most people I know can’t even afford a wedding much less a private jet party!” one Facebook user commented under Adler’s video Wednesday.
Adler told the Statesman his family had taken a variety of precautions at his daughter’s wedding, held when the city was not recommending gatherings of more than 10 people. He consulted with Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, and the guests took part in rapid COVID-19 tests. Masks were distributed—although Adler acknowledged to the Statesman that people were “probably not” wearing them at all times—and the group tried to socially distance themselves.
“There was no recommendation for people not to travel during that period of time,” Adler told the Statesman. “Someone could look at me and say, ‘He traveled.’ But what they could not say is that I traveled at a time when I was telling other people not to travel.”