AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County health leaders have downgraded the area’s COVID-19 risk level to Stage 2 and those who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks in businesses if they allow it.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin’s chief medical officer, included three recommendations for people to follow with the move to Stage 2. Along with fully vaccinated people having the freedom to go maskless at private gatherings both indoors and outdoors, he said partially vaccinated people can be part of gatherings with mask precautions and everyone should travel using mask precautions.

“Austin-Travis County residents have made great strides in getting vaccinated and taking precautionary measures to reduce spread, and the data reflects that,” Escott said in a joint information session Tuesday with the Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners.

“I want to thank our residents for their efforts – they are paying off.”

This graphic from APH shows when people should wear masks in relation to the current risk stage the area is in. (APH graphic)

Escott said local new admissions to hospitals due to COVID-19 are “even lower than we thought,” and other key indicators used in determining risk-level stages are “moving in the right direction.”

The fully vaccinated changes fall in line with what the Center of Disease Control and Prevention recommended last week. Under the new risk-based guidelines, fully vaccinated people can gather both indoors and outdoors without masks when the area is in Stage 3 or lower. They should wear masks if the area moves into Stage 4 or higher and use masks when traveling during all stages.

Health authority rules revised

Escott revised the local health authority rules through June 15 to reflect the Stage 2 changes, but to also allow businesses to adopt policies for those who are fully vaccinated that align with CDC recommendations.

“Those who have been fully vaccinated can resume many activities without the need to wear a mask,” Escott said, “and those who are unvaccinated have plenty of opportunities available to get vaccinated and help us get closer to herd immunity.”

The rules encourage sites to support and provide incentives for workers and patrons to get vaccinated, and nothing in the rules prevents sites from requiring additional precautions.

Masking is still required in hospitals, health care facilities, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings. It also requires masking indoors in businesses with fewer than 500 people unless for fully vaccinated people unless the business owners allow for mask removal. In outdoor settings, the same goes for sites with fewer than 2,500 people.

If sites have more then 2,500 people at them and the health authority approves their COVID-19 precautions, they could be exempt from the rules.

“We are still in a pandemic. But it is now easier than ever to get vaccinated so that you can enjoy more lenient protection measures,” said Adrienne Sturrup, APH interim director. “Whether you get vaccinated through Austin Public Health or any of the numerous local providers in our area, we want every family to take advantage of the opportunity and help our community get to the finish line.”