As local health officials plea for residents to mask up, Gov. Abbott says he won't reinstate mask mandate
Gov. Greg Abbott says he will not impose another mask mandate, despite a rising number of COVID-19 cases across the state and Austin health officials asking all residents to wear masks.
Abbott told KPRC-TV in Houston on Tuesday that reasons not to reinstate a mask mandate are "very clear" and it would be "inappropriate to require people who already have immunity to wear a mask."
Earlier this week, COVID cases and hospitalizations in the five-county Austin metro reached the Stage 4 threshold of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines for the first time since February. Local officials are asking residents, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask while indoors as if in Stage 4, although an official shift has not been announced.
But even so, local officials can only recommend masking since Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting mask mandates in May. Texas was one of the first states to lift the mask mandate, which had been in effect from early summer 2020 through March.
During the press conference, Abbott shut down thoughts of future restrictions, saying he believes Texas has advanced "past the time of government mandates," and we are now in "the time for personal responsibility."
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention still says it is safe for vaccinated individuals to go mask-free in most indoor settings, likewise with Austin's Stage 3 guidelines, though the World Health Organization is still recommending that people wear masks.
Only 44% of Texans are vaccinated, which is among the bottom 30% nationwide, compared to more than 60% in Austin. Earlier this week, Texas' positivity rate went above 10% for the first time since February, with Austin on track at 9.6%, a ceiling that Abbott had previously called a "warning flag."
So far four cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed in Travis County, and the seven-day moving average has gone from 8 to 32 cases since the beginning of July. Austin is edging into Stage 4 territory with 163 new cases and 41 new hospital admissions today alone.
More than 99% of hospital admissions in Texas are among unvaccinated individuals.
Although a masking mandate remains off the table, some local businesses are choosing to take matters into their own hands. Waterloo Records is asking that customers resume masking while shopping in-store, and the Hideout Theatre is requiring that patrons wear masks during shows.
Abbott also doubled down on keeping the mask mandate out of schools when students return in the fall, saying "they can by parental choice."
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- San Marcos favorite Industry Burger opens "mid-October" on E. 5th, featuring "low key healthy" Texas fare.
- Still Austin Whiskey Co. introduces "The Artist," its new rye whiskey.
- Domain NORTHSIDE favorites Bakery Lorraine, Grimaldi's Pizzeria, Jeni's Ice Cream and Sprinkles released their fall flavors.
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- San Francisco's Marufuku Ramen opens next Wednesday, October 12, in the Mueller District.
- Carpenter Hotel announces its popup food truck, Lil Carpenter, open Fri-Sun both ACL weekends, serving what you want, early to late, coffee to donuts, to dogs/burgers/fries/beer.
With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.
Artists and music lovers are set to pack into Zilker Park for The Austin City Limits Music Festival in the coming two weekends. Following that, Formula One will bring racing fans to the Circuit of the Americas.
For those two events, the airport is anticipating high passenger days with 30,000 or more people departing flights.
ABIA recommends arriving at least two and a half hours in advance for domestic flights on those days. For ACL, it's expected on both Sundays of the festival along with the Monday and Tuesday after. The F1-driven high passenger days are expected on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 23-26.
\u201c#AustinCityLimits visitors, you\u2019re in for a weird and wild ride \ud83e\udd18\u262e\ufe0f \n\nFlying in or out of our airport? We got firm and fun tips for you: https://t.co/RawVRalOXN\u201d— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)) 1664894083
F1, especially, could draw in loads of travelers as the three-day event saw 400,000 attendees last year. ABIA warns that highways leading to the airport may see even higher traffic than usual around the event and that travelers should plan their route accordingly.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, said travel numbers come in 24 hours in advance. So, it's hard to predict if the airport will see travel volumes at the same levels that have happened around previous F1 races or if it'll top ACL's flight traffic.
Still, she says historical knowledge points to a chance for it.
“We've had that Monday after F1 break the record for single busiest in airport history," Grimmett said. "So context clues I would say yes, but I can't confirm that. But the historical background points to that."
In anticipation of the high volume of flyers, the airport received additional TSA officers for security screening through the end of October. To prepare even further, the Department of Aviation and partners hosted a job showcase and hiring fair to address the continued labor shortage the airport has experienced.
Relief from hectic travel days is on the horizon with November likely to see a slowdown.
"I don't anticipate it will be as busy as October just because we don't have as many events going on," Grimmett said. "Thanksgiving is kind of our primary holiday that we see a lot of passengers coming in and out of the airport."