While the state of Texas will no longer be under a mask mandate effective Wednesday per Gov. Greg Abbott's orders, Austin will continue to require masking due to a loophole that allows the city's health authority to make COVID ordinances.
Under Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott's rule, the city will keep the mandate even as Abbott's reversal comes into effect on Wednesday. The ordinance, signed in December 2020, states that any violation of the ordinance could result in a fee of up to $2,000 for businesses. And for individuals uncomplying the mask mandate in a business, they can be arrested for trespassing, Escott said.
Austin will maintain the ordinance that allows the city's health authority to "adopt rules reasonably necessary to protect the public health." Because the city views COVID as an ongoing threat, and many asymptomatic carriers could transmit the disease if the mask mandate is reversed, the mandate can stay intact.
Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement that he trusts Escott to keep Austin safe.
"Dr. Escott is the appointed public health physician and expert to whom our community entrusts our public health," Adler said. "His opinions, based on science, and data which further supports CDC guidelines have been consistent and have been and are reflected in the orders he has issued. He is committed to defeating COVID-19 in Austin and Travis County and the City will employ whatever tools are available to support his orders for the sake of all Austin schools, businesses and residents."
The announcement comes as Austin and Texas begin to experience less hospitalizations due to COVID complications. On Tuesday morning, however, Escott said in a press conference that the authority does not recommend moving down to Stage 3 restrictions because of a slight uptick in recent hospitalizations.
Adler said that the mask ordinance will not only keep Austinites safe but will also promote the opening of businesses and schools around the city.
"The single most effective thing each of us can do to help ensure schools can continue to open to more students in-person and to continue opening businesses is to wear masks," Adler said. "The rules issued by Dr. Escott will serve to not only decrease the spread of disease but to also increase public confidence in the safety of local businesses."
Adler's statement ended with #MaskUpATX and said that Austin would continue to follow science as Abbott promised. Adler previously said that Abbott broke that promise when he lifted the mask mandate.
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Austin is in for an early start to what is threatening to be an unseasonably hot summer.
So far, this month has been the hottest May on record with Camp Mabry reporting an average temperature of 82 degrees, compared to the National Weather Service’s recorded average of 74 degrees from May 1-10.
Austin has been an average of 8 degrees hotter than normal this month—the hottest May since 1898. NWS meteorologist Keith White told Austonia that Austinites have La Niña to thank for this sweaty summer.
What is causing the heatwave?
A phenomenon characterized by cooling waters across the central and eastern pacific oceans, La Niña tends to cause cooler and wetter conditions in the northern U.S. but warmer and drier conditions across Central Texas. We would typically be on our way out of La Niña at this time of year, according to White, but the heat can be turned around with a little rain.
White explained that the sun is able to heat dry ground—due to the drought and La Niña—more efficiently than wet ground. West Austinites might be feeling more of the heat, as the drought has been worse west of town.
Austin is entering its rainy season, which tends to fall between May and October. The last 30 days have seen about 2-4 inches of rain, which is just a touch below average, but White said the end of May is looking rainy, which could quell the heat.
“There will be some dependency on if we're able to pick up some more beneficial rains here,” White said. “While at least over the course of the next week it looks likely to remain dry, there may be some rain chances returning toward the end of May.”
Does a record-breaking May mean a record-breaking summer?
Not necessarily, though in part due to climate change, all of the top five hottest summers have been recorded since 2008 with the hottest to date in 2011. Meanwhile, 2021 was only the 38th hottest summer on record.
White said that means climate variability is superimposed against climate change, meaning temperatures are gradually rising, but the amount of rain we receive could make a huge difference.
While 2011 saw more than 90 100-degree days, 2021 only saw 12 100-degree days.
“As our climate warms, the risk of excessive heat will increase because you're taking the average temperature and moving it up,” White said.
How to stay safe and cool
With rising temperatures, there is always a risk of heat-related illness. In fact, White said last weekend there were 29 heat-related illness calls to Austin EMS.
The best way to avoid getting sick in the hot Texas summer is to wear light clothing, drink lots of water, take breaks in air-conditioned areas and familiarize yourself with symptoms of hyperthermia.
And prepare yourself for the first half of August, which is traditionally the hottest time of year.
Austin's summertime tradition is returning to Zilker Park this summer.
Blues on the Green is bringing free live music to the park June 14-15 and July 19-20, Austin City Limits Radio announced Wednesday. Performing artists have not been announced yet.
Blues on the Green 2022 is coming your way this summer! 🌞 Mark those calendars and join ACL Radio at Zilker Park on June 14th-15th and July 19th-20th. 😎 Stay tuned for the #BOTG lineup coming soon! 🎶
Presented by @HEB, Benefiting @austinparksfdn: https://t.co/MdzBGHzlvgpic.twitter.com/soNZyqYze0
— Austin City Limits Radio (@ACL_RADIO) May 11, 2022
The concert series has been taking place for 30 years. It entails a sea of people lounging in Zilker Park with one stage featuring usually local musicians. Recent shows have included Gary Clark Jr. and Shakey Graves.
For the past two years, Blues on the Green has faced postponements due to COVID surges.