Face coverings now required in Travis County


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin and Travis County’s Stay Home-Work Safe order for residents has been extended through May 8.

“The next three weeks are going to be critical for us,” Austin Public Health Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said. “What we’re trying to do is buy time. Buy time for more PPE, buy time for more testing capabilities … and to ultimately buy time for two of the most critical components of this, effective treatment and vaccinations.”

The previous Stay Home-Work Safe order began March 24 and was set to expire on Tuesday — before Judge Sarah Eckhardt’s extension, which requires residents to stay home except for essential activities.

The new order will expire at 11:59 p.m. on May 8, unless further decisions and/or changes are made.

Eckhart said there was a drop in social distancing across the county during Easter weekend, and with the extension, that will give public health officials enough time to see if an increase of COVID-19 cases happens in response to that.

Before Easter weekend, the website Unacast, a site that tracks human movement and are now focusing on social distancing measures, gave Travis County an A-, so it was great. After Easter weekend, Unacast downgraded Travis County to a C, Eckhart said.

“It’s probable that we’re going to see a spike in cases two weeks later,” Eckhardt said of Easter weekend. “We do know that, because there is a strong correlation between our behaviors and our numbers of cases. So, we will be looking to see if we are getting a spike in cases two weeks .”

In addition to the extension, residents over the age of 10 are now required to wear face coverings when in public.

The City of Austin says masks are required when using public transportation or ride shares, pumping gas and while outside when six feet of physical distancing cannot be consistently maintained.

“If we can’t get everybody to do this than the city and the county will have to take a look at stronger enforcement action,” Mayor Steve Adler said, who is relying on the public to follow the new rule.

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“It’s a selfless act,” Adler added. “The hope and the expectation is that we’ll adopt this as a community.”

Escott added the face coverings protect a person, who may be asymptomatic, from spreading the virus to others.

“Face coverings are another key piece in flattening the curve,” Escott said. “It is critical that the public understand that this will not only help in slowing the spread of the disease, but face coverings are also part of our foreseeable future to safely reopen our society.” 

“If we’re strong together now, we’re going to recover together and be stronger in the long term,” Escott said.

Escott also said that the city will provide more data about how COVID-19 is affecting people of different races and ethnicity, specifically a breakdown of hospitalizations and deaths. They will also release data on cluster investigations, Escott said.

He also added that hospitals in the Austin-Travis County area are at about 50% capacity right now.

Due to the requirements for face coverings, fabric stores are now considered essential businesses.

Read the full Stay Home-Work Safe orders below:

The face covering order is, essentially, on the honor system for now. Adler and Eckhart both said that if the community doesn’t embrace it and “make it part of the culture” in the short-term, there will be enhanced enforcement of the order, which include a $1,000 fine and jail time.

“We are heavily reliant on our community’s will to address this through self-regulation,” Eckhart said. “Enforcement here is not going to help us beat COVID-19.”

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