AUSTIN, Texas - With a continued spike in cases and hospitalizations, COVID-19 warnings are ramping back up in Central Texas.
Health officials are especially concerned with school set to start in just a few weeks—raising questions about whether students should be wearing masks.
For Austin ISD, the first day of classes is three weeks from Tuesday, on August 17. On Friday, Austin and Travis County went back into Stage 4 of risk-based COVID guidelines.
Among those guidelines, the city is now asking even vaccinated Austinites to wear a mask indoors, and outdoors as well if you are unable to social-distance. Those who are unvaccinated are now being asked to avoid non-essential gatherings.
Those guidelines are reflected in Austin ISD’s COVID protocols, which were released late last week. School officials "strongly encourage" everyone to wear a mask indoors, especially the unvaccinated, but note school districts cannot require masks due to an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott.
A group of Texas Democrats wrote a letter to Abbott over the weekend, urging him to allow districts to decide for themselves whether to mandate masks for teachers and students. But the Governor is doubling down on his stance against mask mandates, including in public schools—meaning that, right now, local officials can only make recommendations.
Meanwhile, some private schools and businesses in the Austin area are once again making masks mandatory. St. Edward’s University announced that face coverings will once again be required for everyone on campus if they are indoors—even for people who are vaccinated.
Beyond masking up, Austin Public Health says it’s more important now than ever that more people get the COVID shot. As COVID hospitalizations spike once again in Central Texas, local doctors say more than 90% of ICU patients are unvaccinated. APH says the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations has more than tripled since the 4th of July, and hospitals are seeing more younger COVID patients.
Health experts say the trend is largely due to new variants of COVID, such as the highly-contagious and more deadly Delta variant. Those variants have been able to spread quickly as many people remain hesitant to get the vaccine, so local health officials say their focus has now shifted to combatting misconceptions around getting the COVID shot.
On Monday, Austin ISD is holding a vaccination clinic for students 12 and older and their families. It’s happening from 3:00 to 7:00 PM at Covington Middle School.
For more on where and how you can get your shot, visit austintexas.gov/covid19.
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