The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unexpectedly announced Thursday that it no longer recommends fully vaccinated individuals wear masks or socially distance in most settings, throwing area masking policies into question.
While Austin Public Health is evaluating what this new guidance means for their recommendations, local businesses are responding in diverse ways: many are continuing as usual—masks required, at least for now—but a handful are moving away from the requirement for good.
Local elected officials celebrated the news as another sign of the vaccines' efficacy but urged residents to keep masking and get vaccinated if they haven't already. "Our local mask rules are still in place, pending an update," Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison tweeted Friday morning. "Even then, businesses will still be able to use their own discretion. For now, even if you are fully vaccinated, don't leave home without a mask."
Sweet Ritual, a vegan ice cream shop on Airport Boulevard, is one of a few businesses reevaluating its service model after the announcement. "It will take us a few days to do things like move the store around, buy supplies and train our staff," the business wrote in a Thursday Facebook post. "We look forward to getting 'back to better' with you all."
Some businesses are eschewing their masking policies altogether, including Dell Diamond in Round Rock, according to a Thursday announcement. Shape Method, a fitness studio with locations in North Central Austin and Westlake, is also now mask-optional. "You are ALWAYS welcome to wear a mask at Shape Method," the business wrote in a Friday Instagram post.
Whatever the CDC guidance and a business's policy, some Austinites plan to continue masking indefinitely.
A wide range of organizations—from the airport to local businesses and especially those catering to children—are keeping their masking policies in place, regardless of the new CDC guidance.
Great news from the CDC! Just a reminder that travelers at airports must continue to wear a mask that properly covers the nose & mouth per the federal executive order signed earlier this year. https://t.co/0IwvrxLikH
— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (@AUStinAirport) May 13, 2021
The Thinkery, a children's museum in the Mueller development, will continue to require masks "given the large number of children that we serve, as well as the sizable number of unvaccinated adults and teens in our service area," the nonprofit wrote in a Thursday Facebook post.
Austin ISD will also require masking indoors at least through the rest of the school year and at graduation ceremonies "since we have no way to verify vaccination statuses and, until this week, most of our students were not yet eligible to be vaccinated," according to a Friday announcement. The district shifted to a mask-optional outdoor policy on Wednesday for children whose parent or caregiver have consented.
So, too, is BookPeople. "(We) believe our mask requirement has helped protect everyone during the pandemic, so we will continue to mask up," Director of Events & Marketing Eugenia Vela wrote in an email to Austonia.
Grocery stores H-E-B, Whole Foods and Wheatsville have not yet updated their masking policies, according to their websites and social media pages; all three maintained masking requirements after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mandate in March.
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Austin Nicholson was ahead of the curve when he got his vasectomy in September 2021, saving himself a long line as Austin-area doctors say the demand for sterilization has seen a “significant” spike since Roe v. Wade was overturned on Friday.
Nicholson, 25, said he would prefer to adopt children, had felt the Supreme Court decision coming for a while, and, wary of the consequences, he decided to pull the trigger and make an appointment.
“A big part of it was the political climate. We could both potentially face consequences and she would definitely face more consequences, which I also personally would not want,” Nicholson said. “I didn't want to be stuck in Texas and have a potential abortion on the mind when it's illegal.”
According to vasectomy specialist Dr. Luke Machen of Austin Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, the clinic received over 150 vasectomy appointment requests combined on Friday and Monday following the ruling. Typically, the clinic performs 45-50 vasectomies per month.
The Austin Urology Institute reported that they received about 70 calls in the first hour after the ruling was released. OBYN at Women’s Health Domain reported receiving over 100 requests from women interested in getting their tubes tied.
“I would say a significant number of patients who scheduled recently have mentioned the Supreme Court case,” Machen said. “A lot of guys have said they were thinking about having a vasectomy over the last year or so, and the ruling was the final push to get it done.”
The average patient at Austin Fertility who receives a vasectomy is about 37, though Machen said he has started to see an increased number of patients with zero children choosing to get a vasectomy. While they put together a study, Machen expects demand for the procedure to plateau but stay higher than before the ruling.
Machen said vasectomy is the most effective form of permanent birth control, requires only about a week of recovery time, is reversible with success rates of up to 95% and has no effects on sexual function or testosterone.
Nicholson said the procedure was less than $700, he was never in any pain, had very little recovery time and has never regretted the decision—in fact, he has happily recommended the procedure to friends.
“It helps me feel better knowing that I won't put a woman in that situation where she'd have to be faced with a potentially life-altering decision, or consequence even,” Nicholson said. “I actually have had three of my friends ask me questions about it and tell me that they were considering it.”
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