Austin mayor, health officials recommend people wear masks


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other health officials are urging residents to cover their faces when they go out in public, to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Adler told KXAN while hospitals have enough protective equipment right now, what happens with the virus next in the city depends on how well people respond.

“Whether or not we get taxed with supply or with ICU beds is entirely dependent on how we do as a community in flattening the curve,” Adler said. “If we have everybody in the community distancing, wearing masks, then our hospital capacity is going to be fine. If not, we have to scale up for the surge and we have plans to do that, but it’s sure not preferred.”

While Austin is not going so far as to mandate people wear masks at this point — like some places in Texas are — it could become a requirement in the future, said Austin-Travis County interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott.

“If we can really help mitigate the spread further, it may allow us to open businesses again sooner,” Escott said.

On the other hand, “when people are making independent choices not to follow the recommendations, if they’re making choices to gather when we’re saying not to, that’s going to cause more people to get sick, it’s going to cause us to have further delays in getting businesses back open. If we continue to see evidence of that, we’re going to have to take additional action.”

Escott said wearing cloth masks is important to prevent other people from being exposed if the person wearing the mask has COVID-19. He said there is increasing evidence that people without or with only mild symptoms can transmit the disease.

Escott said for those making homemade masks, they should look for fabrics with higher thread counts. They also need to make sure to cover their mouth and nose and find a solution that’s comfortable for them so they don’t touch their faces. People should also have multiple options so they can wear different ones every day and wash them after use.

Adler urges people to wear homemade masks, bandanas or “the kind of things people wear when they go skiing.”

“They’re going to become a fashion statement in the city,” Adler said.

But he also cautioned: “It doesn’t substitute for the six-foot distancing.”

Adler said different parts of Austin will likely have peak COVID-19 cases at different times, and it may be late April or May before the city starts to see the number of cases per day decrease. Escott said while it’s too early to tell if measures like Travis County’s stay-at-home order is effective, the city is paying attention to the numbers this week and next. The county’s stay-at-home order went into effect March 25, and Escott expects we’ll start seeing its effect this Wednesday.

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