AUSTIN, Texas - Officials say that the Health Authority Rules released on May 18, which followed updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will now be recommendations rather than requirements.
This comes after Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting governmental entities from mandating masks.
Health officials say partially and unvaccinated individuals still have a responsibility to continue wearing a mask.
"The governor is trying to overrule the local health authority, especially their ability to protect children: we don’t think he has that right," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler in a statement Friday. "We are already fighting the governor in court on masking. But at this moment we have decided not to focus on a fight with the governor but rather on the rules people should follow to protect our health."
"If you're vaccinated, it is still encouraged to wear a mask around vulnerable people. And if you are not vaccinated, you’re now at even greater risk and you should get a vaccine. It is now easier than ever to get a vaccine -- you can find a walk-up clinic without an appointment in more places, and eligibility has expanded to those 12 years of age and older," Adler says.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown also released a statement saying, "The governor’s order leaves some of our most vulnerable unprotected. Our local health authority recommends people to be COVID-wise by wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, and getting vaccinated to protect our entire community. If you are unvaccinated, now is the time to get a vaccine."
Officials also say those who are fully vaccinated may resume the following:
- Normal activities without wearing a mask, except when required by a business
- Domestic travel without testing and quarantine before or after travel
- International travel without testing, unless required by the destination, and refrain from quarantine after arriving back in the United States
- Refrain from testing and quarantine following a known exposure, unless you develop symptoms
"We choose to focus our energy on fighting COVID in our community. We choose to focus on the health and safety of all of you, our residents," said Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority, in a news release. "There is now more urgency to be vaccinated as protection measures will not be required."
An individual is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing the full course of their COVID-19 vaccination regimen; Pfizer and Moderna require two doses and Johnson & Johnson requires one dose.
The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently authorized for those aged 18 and up. The Pfizer vaccine is currently authorized for those aged 12 and up. Individuals can receive the Moderna vaccine through APH or find additional vaccine providers in your area at Vaccines.gov.
"I am confident that the guidelines provided regarding the ongoing wearing of masks, particularly for unvaccinated individuals and partially vaccinated individuals, is based upon the current science and consistent with CDC guidance," said Dr. Escott. "Masks still play an important role in further reducing the spread of COVID-19 and will remain a recommended practice for those who are not fully vaccinated, at least until we reach herd immunity."
To reach herd immunity, Austin Public Health is aiming for 70% of the population to be fully vaccinated. Based on state data, Travis County is currently at 62.14% of those 12+ partially vaccinated and 49.42% fully vaccinated.
"While the pandemic is not over, the Austin-Travis County area is at a lower level of risk than the rest of the state because so many of you chose higher measures of protection to keep you, your family, and those around you safe from COVID," Interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said. "We want our community to be COVID wise – getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, and maintaining social distancing provides the highest level of protection from COVID-19."