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Austin Public Health Considers Lowering Risk Level, But Says It's Too Soon To Return To Normal

people lined up at a vaccination site
Julia Reihs
People wait outside the Delco Activity Center for COVID-19 vaccines from Austin Public Health.

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The city’s interim medical director says Austin Public Health is looking at local COVID-19 data and could make a recommendation as early as this week to move the area down to stage 3 of its risk-based guidelines.

Dr. Mark Escott made the comments before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to lift statewide executive orders that limit occupancy for businesses and require Texans to wear masks in public spaces.

Escott said rolling back restrictions and ending the statewide mask requirement could hurt the COVID outlook locally.

​“Particularly the masking mandate, which really has been the most effective public policy decision the governor has made, certainly has the potential to initiate a surge," he said.

The rolling average for daily coronavirus hospitalizations has dropped below 30 for the first time since mid-November. However, Escott said, APH is still waiting to see impacts from February’s winter storm.

"What we’ve seen happen before is that when folks relax too soon, these numbers bounce," he said, warning that now is not the time to ease up on social distancing and wearing masks.

Also Tuesday, Travis County Judge Andy Brown said multiple counties are planning another run of the mass vaccination site at Circuit of The Americas this weekend.

More than 3,000 people were vaccinated against COVID-19 last weekend at CoTA. Officials from Travis, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties are working to administer up to 10,000 shots a day at the site, pending vaccine availability.

"I think everyone has the same goal and that’s to try to get up to where we are giving up to 10,000 vaccines a day out there once the supply increases," Brown said.

Stephanie Hayden-Howard, director of Austin Public Health, says Travis County will be receiving some of the 200,000 newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses being allocated to the state. She says these vaccines will be going to private sector providers.

This story has been updated.

Got a tip? Email Jerry Quijano at Follow him on Twitter@jerryquijano.

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Jerry Quijano is the local All Things Considered anchor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.
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