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Austin health officials recommend masks for students under 12 as school year begins

Austin Public Health, Travis County and Austin ISD are trying to promote a "virus free" school year in 2021-22.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Monday, Austin Public Health, Travis County and Austin ISD announced a partnership, promoting a "virus free" school year in 2021-22.

"As students prepare to return to classes as early as Aug. 17, parents have a critical opportunity to ensure their children safely return to in-person instruction by scheduling a child wellness visit with a healthcare provider, and if the child is 12 years of age or older, two the COVID-19 vaccinations that will fully protect them," local health officials wrote in a press release.

For children younger than 12, officials "strongly recommend" that they continue wearing face masks as the school year begins until a vaccine for their age range is approved.

On July 15, APH announced that the area would be moving back to Stage 3 as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise, as well as the more rapidly transmitted delta variant, among the unvaccinated.

“We understand there is nothing more important for parents than keeping their children safe,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority. “No child or teen needs to face the school year afraid they will get sick. This year, parents can protect their children from COVID-19 and its variants, as well as the standard childhood diseases.”

In the state of Texas, children and teens must show proof they have received certain immunizations, which are outlined in the Texas Minimum State Vaccine Requirements for Students Grades K-12. Required immunizations include:

  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella 
  • DTaP
  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Varicella
  • Meningococcal

“For our community to remain healthy, people need to find a health care provider they trust to receive their annual checkups, including well-child checks for children” said Adrienne Sturrup, Austin Public Health interim director.

Local health officials said that prior to the pandemic, Travis County faced a vaccination opt-out rate of more than 3% for school-aged children, with rates close to 50% in some districts. And, back in 2019, Travis County had its first confirmed cases of measles and rubella in 20 years.

Currently, Austin Public Health hosts Shots for Tots and Big Shots clinics to provid immunizations, as well as COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots, for children who are uninsured or Medicaid recipients. Services are also available for adults, and no one is turned away if they cannot pay. COVID-19 vacciations are free for anyone 12 or older. Identification and insurance are not required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Austin ISD has an online calendar for parents to find events that include COVID-19 vaccinations. Parents can also find information on the City of Austin's calendar.

"Protecting young people from the COVID-19 virus and its mutations is critically important to break the chain of transmission, prevent the further disease spread and mutation, and avoid future health complications," officials said. "Agreement among health experts is widespread that the vaccine is safe, effective and provides the best available tool to stop the pandemic’s spread."

For more information about COVID-19, click here.

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