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Austin Health Officials Recommend Masking Up Indoors As COVID-19 Cases And Hospitalizations Spike

A woman wears a face mask and protective gloves.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A woman wears a face mask and protective gloves on March 27, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Austin Public Health is recommending everyone — including those who are vaccinated — wear a face covering indoors as COVID-19 cases continue rising in Austin and Travis County.

Local Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes told a joint session of Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council members on Tuesday that hospitalizations are up among all age groups.

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel. We know what to do. We know what works," Walkes said. "Masks stop the spread, and vaccinations stop severe disease and illness."

Austin reported 38 new hospital admissions on Monday, bringing the seven-day average to 30, a level that could send the area to stage 4 of APH's risk-based guidelines. The area was moved up to stage 3 guidance just last week after the state confirmed the first cases of the highly contagious delta variant in Travis County.

Intensive care unit admissions are rising, too. Walkes said almost all of the patients in those beds are not vaccinated.

“Almost all of the cases we’re seeing right now from case investigations are in people who are unvaccinated, and almost all of the people who are being hospitalized are unvaccinated,” Walkes said. “But we all need to take precautions, wear a mask to stop the spread and everybody should be vaccinated to prevent severe disease.”

Walkes said more than 150 “breakthrough” cases were reported in the Austin area since last week. A breakthrough case is when someone who is fully vaccinated becomes infected with COVID-19. She said about 25% of those people were asymptomatic carriers, meaning they didn't show any symptoms of the illness.

“That again stresses the importance of our community staying home when they’re sick, wearing a mask to prevent the spread and for sure getting vaccinated, because these are individuals who for the most part have had mild to no disease,” Walkes said.

Cases and hospitalizations among children are also going up. On Monday, Austin Public Health issued new guidance recommending all children under the age of 12 wear masks when returning to school next month.

COVID-19 cases have been rising in Texas since late June. While the number of confirmed cases are nowhere near the high of 27,000 on Dec. 29, the state went from having 124 confirmed cases on June 21 to a new spike of 3,500 on July 15, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The number of confirmed cases on July 18, the most recent date available, is 889.

Meanwhile, the number of daily hospitalizations reported in Texas has doubled in the last month. State data shows that after plateauing in June, hospitalizations went from a low of 1,428 hospitalizations on June 27 to 3,042 on July 18.

And while cases and hospitalizations go up across the country, vaccination rates have been declining. According to an APM Research Lab analysis, 10.1 million COVID-19 vaccines were administered between June 28 and July 11, the lowest point since the nationwide vaccination campaign began in January.

In Travis County, 70.1% of residents 12 years or older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 59.5% statewide, state data shows.

A recent analysis by NPR and John Hopkins University found counties with low vaccination rates are becoming or already are COVID-19 hotspots, including some in Texas.

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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