AUSTIN, Texas — The CDC is no longer urging that those who are fully-vaccinated to wear a mask indoors or outdoors. Now, the City of Austin says masks can be dropped for the fully vaccinated if a business decides to do so in certain situations.
Despite the CDC's announcement on May 13, Austin still had a mask mandate in effect, and the "health authority rules" remain in effect through June 15. The CDC announcement maintains that people should wear a mask and socially distance if it's required by federal, state or local law.
The updated health rules in Austin state the following:
- Masking remains required in hospitals, health care facilities, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings
- For those who are fully vaccinated, masking remains required unless a business owner allows fully vaccinated individuals to remove their masks indoors with less than 500 people or outdoors with less than 2,500 people
- Outdoor sites with more than 2,500 people may be exempt if the Health Authority approves the site’s COVID-19 precautions
Fully-vaccinated individuals should wear a mask and distance when the risk of transmission to those who are not fully vaccinated is significant, the City of Austin said. Partially or unvaccinated people should continue to mask and socially distance, per CDC's guidance.
The CDC eased the mask-wearing guidance last week, saying that science has evolved and shown that fully-vaccinated people can quit wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings and give up social distancing. You are fully-vaccinated when you are two weeks out from your final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Those who are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people should continue wearing masks, the agency said. The guidance also still calls for masks in crowded indoor settings including buses, airplanes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
Many Austin business owners told KVUE enforcing the mask mandate has been difficult.
However, some big box stores like Macy's, Walgreens and CVS plan to keep their mask requirements for now. Simon Property Group will still require shoppers and workers to wear masks. Simon operates locations at The Domain, Barton Creek Square Mall, Round Rock Outlets and San Marcos Outlets.
As people learned about the CDC’s new advisory, some people wondered if businesses could begin asking customers if they’re vaccinated. Some people claimed that would be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, more commonly known as HIPAA. But most businesses would not violate HIPAA by asking about a customer’s vaccination status.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting governmental entities in Texas – including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities or government officials – from requiring or mandating mask-wearing. APH released the following statement in response to the governor's order:
"Dr. Escott and the Commissioner’s Court adopted new health authority rules related to face coverings that included exemptions under certain conditions. These actions occurred before the Governor issued GA-36. As we are reviewing the Governor’s order, we will continue to keep the health and safety of the Austin-Travis County residents as our top priority. Throughout the response, the willingness of the community to protect each other along with local health and safety rules, guidelines and orders has led to Austin-Travis County experiencing the lowest per capita COVID-19 related deaths among metropolitan counties in Texas and one of the lowest in the country.
Science and data-based decisions have led us to this point in the pandemic where we can safely enter stage 2 of our community-based risk guidelines. The Health Authority Rule revisions reflect an improvement in our local situation and a measured relaxation of masking restrictions.
While still in a pandemic, we will continue to monitor the data daily and will progress towards normalcy if our local situation continues to improve."
Travis County Judge Andy Brown also released a statement on Abbott's order, saying:
"Governor Abbott once again put party politics above public health. Today, Dr. Fauci said that kids 11 years old and younger won’t be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine until early 2022. By prohibiting school districts from taking common-sense steps to keep kids safe, the Governor has put our most vulnerable, young children, at risk. GA-35 is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. By prohibiting local communities from having basic mask requirements in place, he has put at risk our public servants and essential workers, folks who have put the health and safety of themselves and their families on the line throughout the pandemic. I will continue to work with our county attorneys and other local leaders to see what tools we may have available to continue to keep our community safe."
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