AUSTIN, Texas - Austin’s Entertainment District was jammed Wednesday night with people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, many of them not wearing masks. People packed 6th Street to enjoy an evening of bar-hopping, some for the first time in the year since the pandemic began.
Speaking to Austinites on Facebook Live late Wednesday, Mayor Steve Adler urged folks to continue to wear masks and avoid big gatherings, especially for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet, but many ignored that advice.
Adler is worried about a spike in COVID among young people following the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, who may not even know they have it, and could pass it to others who haven’t gotten their shot.
"Historically when we’ve had a rise in the number of young folks, younger folks that show up with the infection," said Adler. "A week or two after that, then we see a lot more cases of older folks show up. The younger folks get it and they pass it to family members or others. So we’re going to have to continue to watch the trends," said Adler.
Adler pointed out that new COVID cases are down, but of the new cases 70% are people under 40—not totally surprising given that more older people are getting vaccinated, but also stoking concerns about a potential spike in younger people.
Some service industry workers are also worried about the impact of St. Patrick's Day celebrations specifically when it comes to masks. Mask-related calls to Austin police, Fire, 3-1-1, and code have spiked since Governor Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate.
An average of 34 mask-related calls was made per week during a 6 week period from January 25 - March 7. Since the governor lifted the mask mandate on March 10, that weekly number has risen to 113.
"Every single person that’s got a customer-facing job immediately knew that our jobs got that much more difficult," explained Jeannette Gregor, co-founder of Austin service industry advocacy and support group Amplify Sound Coalition.
Austin-Travis County is still enforcing its mask mandate as officials remain locked in a battle with the state.