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Austin leaders recommend everyone wear masks indoors as COVID-19 cases increase

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the most important thing is for people to get vaccinated.

AUSTIN, Texas — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Austin-Travis County – including some breakthrough cases among vaccinated residents – the area is now in Stage 3, and City of Austin leaders are recommending that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors. 

During a joint session of the Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council, Medical Director Dr. Desmar Walkes stressed the importance of unvaccinated individuals getting the shot and everyone continuing to mask.

"And I know everybody who's been vaccinated is now raising their hands and saying, 'Wait a second, I did everything you asked of me.' Right? 'I participated in this. We brought down to levels. I've been vaccinated,' like you said. 'Why is it that I should be wearing a mask?' And the reason for that is pretty simple. What we know is, is that being vaccinated is the most important thing you can do, because it pretty much limits the risk you face," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. 

Adler explained ICU numbers in the Austin-Travis County area are on the rise.  

"It's pretty apparent in our city that the infection is being passed by more people than we would like," said Adler. "So we're asking people who are vaccinated at this point to wear the masks so that they don't inadvertently pass a virus that they might not even know they have on to other people."

Adler echoed Walkes' recommendations during the session. He said hospitalizations are increasing and, while the area currently has the staffing to keep up, projections show the future is uncertain.

"If we're going to get to that pink line [pictured above] as opposed to that green line, everybody needs to be wearing masks now indoors," Adler said, later adding, "Clearly the most important thing is to get vaccinated and then the new guidance today [is] for everyone to wear masks indoors."

City leaders said hospital staffing is fine currently but said all area-hospitals have requested help from the State.

"Our ICUs right now don't have the same capacity as they had a year ago because we have a lot of nurses and doctors, frankly, there that were just burned out last year, exhausted, that have retired at this point or gone on to do other things," said Adler. "So we can't be assured that we'll get the same support from the State to fill in with additional staffing."

Adler also said that if the City could, it would require everyone in schools to wear masks. As it is, local health leaders and Austin ISD have strongly recommended that children younger than 12 wear face masks as the school year begins until a vaccine for their age range is approved.

"If it were possible, without getting involved in litigation with the governor, it's pretty clear that our health authority and our county judge and I would order right now that all children in school wear masks," said Adler. "Under 12, they can't get vaccinated, so they should be wearing masks. Teachers or guests that have contact with them should be wearing masks."

Austin Public Health officials also said Tuesday that churches may ask their congregations to wear masks. Masking has always been optional in places of worship. Adler added that businesses can ask patrons to wear masks, as well. 

Austin-Travis County passed into Stage 4 territory on Monday, based on a seven-day average threshold of 30 daily COVID-19 hospital admissions. However, the area remains in Stage 3 as of Tuesday. City and county officials moved Austin from Stage 2 to Stage 3 on July 15.

For a look at the differences between Stage 3 and Stage 4 recommendations, click here. For more information on masking in Austin, click here.

For more on what was discussed in Tuesday morning's joint session, check out this Twitter thread.

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