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At least 11 Austin businesses require masks as local COVID case counts and related hospitalizations continue to spike upward. (Blue Starlite/Instagram)

Some Austin businesses are reinstating mask mandates after local health officials announced a shift to Stage 4 on Friday.

At this stage, all residents—including those who are vaccinated—are encouraged to wear masks while indoors and unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid nonessential trips, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines. These recommendations are unenforceable, however, after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in May prohibiting local government entities from issuing mask mandates.

But a handful of local businesses—including restaurants, retail establishments, universities and churches—have heeded local officials' recommendations by reinstating their own mandates, citing the Delta variant and breakthrough cases as reasons for the policy change.

Waterloo Records in downtown Austin and the Blue Starlite drive-in theater, which has three area locations, were among the earliest adopters, announcing new masking requirements on July 15, more than a week before local health officials announced the shift to Stage 4.

BookPeople, in downtown Austin, soon followed suit.

Starting Monday, St. Edward's University in South Austin will require masks in indoor campus spaces.

Retail establishments, including Method Hair in East Austin and Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy in North Austin, also joined in, citing the recent move to Stage 4.

At least a few restaurants, which have been especially hard hit during the pandemic, have reinstated masking requirements, including Justine's Brasserie in East Austin.

"This was not an easy decision (we're tired on masks, too), but breakthrough Covid cases are real and growing," the restaurant wrote in a Saturday Instagram post. "We wish we could follow France's lead and ask diners, particularly those opting for the (still limited) indoor seating, for proof of inoculation. Abbott, however, has made it illegal for us to do so."

Joe's Bakery in East Austin and Quack's 43rd Street Bakery and Hyde Park are asking patrons to mask up.

St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Northwest Austin held its worship services outside on Sunday, with socially distanced seating and masks required for all attendees, regardless of vaccination status.

Other businesses have taken the Stage 4 announcement to reiterate their existing masking requirements.

Although the aforementioned businesses have reissued mask mandates, they appear to be in the minority, with most letting customers decide whether to mask up—at least for now. These include major retailers like H-E-B, which made masks optional for fully vaccinated customers on June 9, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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