AUSTIN (KXAN) — An ongoing social media survey done by the Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi Group shows the percentage of people wearing masks in Travis County during the omicron surge outpaces neighboring counties, the state of Texas and the United States.

The group surveys “tens of thousands” of Facebook users, asking them to answer COVID-19 questions including how regularly they mask in public, according to their report.

The data collected for Jan. 20, during the height of the omicron surge, showed roughly 80 out of 100 people, or 80% of people surveyed in Travis County reported wearing a mask in public compared to the roughly 65% in Texas and 70% in the United States.

The number of people who reported wearing a mask has dipped slightly as case numbers start to decline, but Travis County continues to see mask wearing at higher rates than other parts of the state and country, according to the survey data.

“The increase in masking that’s occurred since the beginning of the omicron surge has correlated with the decline in cases that we’ve been seeing,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, said.

The first graph below shows the number of people per 100 that reported wearing masks in Travis County. If you use the arrow to move to the next graph, it shows the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases reported each day per 100,000 people. In both graphs the green line is Travis County. The others represent Texas, the United States and a compilation of neighboring counties.

  • Graph shows people wearing masks in Travis County went up during omicron surge
  • This data shows the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases newly reported each day in Travis County per 100,000 people

During the omicron surge, Travis County also reported fewer COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people than Texas and the United States overall, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and published by the Delphi Group.

On Jan. 20, data shows Travis County was reporting 178 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people while Texas was seeing 196 and the United States was seeing 223. The graph above shows Travis County was regularly tracking at fewer cases per 100,000 people than the state of Texas and the United States.

The percentage of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may also play a role in that. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) roughly 63% of eligible people in Texas are fully vaccinated, while more than 71% of people in Travis County are.

In July of last year, an executive order was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott that banned local governments or school districts from instituting a mask mandate. In January, a Texas Court of Appeals wrote that Abbott doesn’t have the authority to do that.

Regardless, Austin-Travis County has in place COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, which encourage people to wear masks when hospitalizations and risk of catching COVID-19 are high. Orders put forward by the Austin-Travis County health authority also require masks in schools during higher stages of risk. Austin-Travis County is in Stage 5 guidelines right now.

Governors across the country are beginning to ease overarching mask mandates this week, especially in schools. The governors of Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon this week announced plans to lift mask requirements for students by the end of February or March, as COVID-19′s omicron surge subsides. Massachusetts joined the list on Wednesday.

How Google trends help predict case numbers

The Delphi Group data also tracked online behavior and how it relates to COVID-19 surges. The number of Google searches in Travis County for COVID-19 related symptomology has also seen a recent decline parallel to the decline in reported cases — suggesting people are looking for information on symptoms as they’re experiencing them, giving researchers another way to track COVID-19 waves.

Travis County has seen a more rapid decline in people searching for COVID-19 symptoms over the past few weeks than Texas and the United States.

That tracks with the community transmission rate, or the 7-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 people, being reported. In Travis County, CTR is at 348 as of Wednesday. Texas and the United States have a CTR of more than 480.

COVID symptom searches on Google
Delphi looks at the sum of Google search volumes for loss of smell and loss of taste (courtesy Delphi Group)

“We still have high community transmission rates so we will take our time in making that move into relaxation of our current mitigation strategies,” Walkes said.