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Charlie L. Harper III

Our photographer captured Austin residents around town on the day after the mayor announced he would require fabric face coverings in public. (Charlie L. Harper III)

The day after the city of Austin extended its stay-at-home order, adding that members of the public will be required to wear fabric face coverings in public places, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said that masks will be a way of life in Austin for quite a while in response to the coronavirus epidemic.

"The requirement for facial coverings is likely to be a longstanding requirement," he said at a virtual press conference today. "Nobody expects that this thing is going to go away."


Escott said that the peak of COVID-19 cases in Austin will depend on how well residents adhere to the requirements in the stay-at-home order, and that city officials are trying to buy time to acquire more testing equipment, personal protective equipment and contact-tracing capabilities.

He said that things could go back to normal when there is an effective treatment and vaccine in place. In the meantime, a population comfortable with wearing masks could make it possible to gradually relax restrictions.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said today at the press conference that masks were not necessary for outdoor activities such as jogging or walking, as long as the individual is either alone or with members of their household. The covering can also be removed while eating or drinking.

The fabric face coverings are not meant to protect the individual wearing the mask, but rather those nearby, in case the individual has an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. The masks are not a replacement for maintaining a physical distance, officials have said.

In his April 6 "Got a Minute?" video post, Adler demonstrated two ways to make a mask from t-shirt material, with no sewing, in less than a minute.

It has been difficult to find masks at Austin stores, but there are hundreds of videos on YouTube showing how to make your own. On the local social networking platform NextDoor, many neighbors post that they are making masks for the community, often providing them at no cost. Etsy, an e-commerce site focused on handcrafted items, has over 350,000 listings for "masks."

Adler calls it a moral requirement to protect workers such as store clerks.

Kasey Pfaff, an employee at an Austin Home Depot, said that before this new facial covering order, she found herself reacting a little differently to customers walking into the store wearing a mask and those who were not wearing one. She is glad that customers should now all be wearing masks.

"It makes us feel like people are doing their jobs," she said. "They're protecting us."

Pfaff has an autoimmune condition that puts her at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications. She also needs to avoid bringing the coronavirus home to her roommate or over to her elderly mother's house.

She has been wearing a mask and gloves herself, and she knows it is not always easy. Her glasses fog up, and they fall off when she bends over. Sometimes she has to talk on the phone at work, and that is hard while wearing a mask. Yet she considers the mask mandate important both now and as Austin moves through other phases of the crisis.

"I see it just as much as a reassurance about the future," she said. "That everyone is doing this is a signal that Austin is trying to get back on its feet."

Charlie L. Harper III

Photos by Charlie L. Harper III

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