AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health leaders are contacting Austinites directly through phone calls and texts, urging them to mask up.

This is the first weekend Austin-Travis County has been under Stage 4 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines since February.

A text message from Austin Public Health on Friday urges people to mask up and get their vaccines. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)
A text message from Austin Public Health on Friday urges people to mask up and get their vaccines. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

“This is not a joke. This is very serious,” said Elizabeth Giddens, who is trying to take COVID-19 precautions seriously. That’s why she still isn’t eating inside restaurants and sits outside — and has barely even been to any at all.

“I think that if you’re unvaccinated, you need to be masked inside,” she said, adding she agrees with APH’s guidelines for vaccinated people as well.

Giddens is unvaccinated, herself, due to medical reasons.

“I’m pursuing visits with my doctor to get blood work and get finalized and figure out what’s going on with me, so that I can get vaccinated with a calm sensibility,” she said.

Until then, she feels safe being outdoors and away from crowds.

But following the guidelines isn’t that simple for many business owners.

“We don’t know. We don’t know,” said Simon Madera, who owns the Taco Flats restaurants and another bar.

They don’t require masks anymore and don’t know if they will.

“What do you do? You know, you’re going to start… alienating some customers that feel strongly for or against it,” he said. “You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.”

He says they’re leaning toward re-enacting the policy but received backlash the last time they did, which then was backed by a state mandate, but this time, enforcement would be on him.

“We don’t want to get to that. We want to find a balance to where we can compromise and figure out a way to make everybody safe, make everybody happy,” Madera said.

He said that might include things like closing indoor dining or reverting to a takeout only or curbside model.

“We’re in a weird pickle. And it’s kind of scary to see this circle back,” Madera said.

Giddens, who owns a hair salon, is requiring masks and only seeing one customer at a time. She considers herself lucky to be able to do so, as the sole proprietor of her shop.

“We all need to be completely aware that there’s a mysterious, invisible invader right now,” she said.

Giddens says once cases started surging again and Austin-Travis County entered Stage 4, she stopped seeing her grandson, who is a toddler.

“I’m not seeing my grandson until I’m vaccinated, so I’m making sacrifices. And that’s the most difficult thing,” she said.