As Texas COVID-19 cases surge, officials urge everyone to wear masks and for unvaccinated residents stay home

A sign at an Austin candy store tells patrons that masks are required for entry. Austin and Travis County officials announced a return to Stage 4 COVID-19 protocols Friday and asked all residents to wear masks when they leave their homes. Credit: Sop

**EDITOR'S NOTE** The original headline to this story was shortened for length.

Officials in some of Texas' largest counties are asking residents — even those vaccinated against the coronavirus — to again wear masks in public as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread across the state. And some officials are urging unvaccinated people to limit their trips outside the home.

The updated suggestions came as Harris, Dallas and Travis counties raised their local coronavirus threat levels or precautionary guidelines in recent days.

Travis County officials made the announcement in a virtual news conference Friday morning. Under Stage 4, Austin and Travis officials want residents — vaccinated and unvaccinated — to wear masks at all times in public, and for unvaccinated people to only leave their homes for essential trips.

"I know this transition back to Stage 4 may be difficult, but we must follow our local health authority's recommendations to once again flatten the curve and to ensure we continue to protect ourselves and our most vulnerable," Travis County Judge Andy Brown said in a press release.

That came a day after Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also urged residents, even those who have been vaccinated, to wear masks in public as the county increased its COVID threat level. And on Friday night, Dallas County officials increased their threat level, which asks unvaccinated people to limit trips outside the home, among other precautions.

Local officials can’t enforce any restrictions, however, because Gov. Greg Abbott banned all local pandemic-related mandates in May. The recommendations differ from those of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says it safe for people who are fully vaccinated to "resume activities that you did before the pandemic without wearing a mask or physically distancing."

The announcements come as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have risen statewide: Texas’ seven-day average of new cases jumped from 2,410 to 4,087 daily cases compared with the previous seven-day period, while hospitalizations increased 47% over the same period.

"Each of us has a personal choice to make — will we do our part to stop disease transmission by getting vaccinated and taking the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others, or will we be part of it's continued spread?" Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, said in the Austin press release.

Brandon Formby contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in the Texas Tribune.

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