On Tuesday, May 18, Austin-Travis County Health Authority has extended its COVID-19 rules through Tuesday, June 15, now featuring updated masking guidance for people who are fully vaccinated. At the same time, Austin-Travis County also announced that the region has de-escalated into Stage 2 of its COVID-19 Risk-Based Guidelines.
Then on Friday, May 21, Austin and Travis County turned these mandates into recommendations in light of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning local governments and health authorities from issuing their own regional mask mandates.
Under the revised Health Authority rules, everyone is asked to still wear masks — unless a business specifically allows only fully vaccinated people to take off their masks — in indoor settings of less than 500 people and outdoor settings of less than 2,500 people. Outdoor events with more than 2,500 people can happen under that rule with the approval of the Austin-Travis Health Authority. However, fully vaccinated people are still being asked to wear masks and social distance when around potentially unvaccinated people. People who aren’t vaccinated or who are partially vaccinated should still wear masks, social distance, and stay away from crowds and indoor spaces with bad ventilation.
Regardless of vaccination status, masks are still generally recommended for people in public — particularly since it’s difficult to discern who is vaccinated and who is not. Masks are also still required while in hospitals, health care facilities, long-term care facilities, and other bigger group settings.
The updates to the Health Authority Rules are along the lines of recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or their single dose of Johnson & Johnson.
Under Stage 2 of the risk-based guidelines, fully vaccinated people can go maskless at indoor and outdoor private events and parties, as well as dine out at restaurants and bars and frequent shops without masks or social distancing only if those businesses allow for it. People who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated still should wear masks during those circumstances. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are allowed to take off their masks for dining and drinking purposes when seated at restaurant and bar tables.
Again, all of these guidelines are recommendations, not rules. The county issued updates earlier this month to include specific mask guidance for fully vaccinated people. The staging levels are based upon the seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 hospital admissions, ICU and ventilator cases, and the positivity rate.
To help encourage people who haven’t been vaccinated yet, the Austin-Travis County Health Authority is asking businesses and places to offer incentives for people to get the vaccine shot. In mid-May, Marble Falls brewery Save the World Brewing Co. gave away free pints of beers during its vaccination clinic. In New Orleans, the city council offered a free pound of crawfish to people who got the vaccine, and many bars and restaurants offered free shots of alcohol. There are many places to get the vaccine in the Austin area as well.
“We did not get to this stage by luck,” says Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott in a release. “Throughout the pandemic, our community took necessary protection measures to reduce spread and get vaccinated, which helped us achieve a lower risk level and therefore relaxed rules.”
In a separate release regarding Stage 2, Escott noted that admissions are progressively coming from outside of the Austin and Travis County area, “and that our local admissions are even lower than we thought.”
A Texas order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott lifted all COVID-19 measures as of March 10, including capacity limits and mask requirements. At the same time, Austin and Travis County issued their own mask requirements through the local health authority, which still stood despite a lawsuit from Texas Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton.
Update, May 28, 10:21 a.m.: This article, originally published on May 18, 2021, has been updated to reflect that the new mask guidances are recommendations rather than mandates.
- Austin-Travis County Health Authority Issues Revised Rules [City of Austin]
- Control Orders and Emergency Rules [City of Austin]
- Austin-Travis County Enters Stage 2 for the First Time in the Pandemic [City of Austin]
- Austin-Travis County Is Currently in Stage 2 [City of Austin]