As omicron arrives in the area, Austin and Travis County extend COVID restrictions
Austin is extending COVID-19 restrictions that mandate masking in public schools and impose penalties for violating the public health order.
The Austin City Council and Travis County commissioners moved Tuesday to reauthorize the joint mandate ahead of the holidays and just a day after likely cases of the omicron variant were detected in Central Texas. The order is extended until at least June 10, though officials can vote to end the restrictions earlier.
Per the order, anyone on the campus of a public school over the age of 2 is required to wear a mask. That includes public charter schools and public colleges. Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in May banning mask mandates, but its legality has gone back and forth in the courts.
Tuesday's order also reauthorizes Austin and Travis County's risk-based guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Austin is currently in Stage 3 of the guidelines, which means vaccinated people don't need to wear masks at outdoor gatherings or when dining or shopping. Vaccinated people who are at high risk of severe illness should continue masking. All vaccinated people should wear masks at indoor gatherings and when traveling. The order also allows for civil penalties for businesses that violate the guidelines.
Health officials worry holiday gatherings and travel could lead to the spread of the omicron variant. Austin Public Health staff told city and county officials at their joint briefing Tuesday that cases are slightly rising in the Austin area, but also noted a rise in vaccinations.
Roughly 70% of residents 5 and older are fully vaccinated here, and 28% of children have received at least one dose of the vaccine — well above the statewide average.
APH advises anyone eligible to get vaccinated or schedule a booster shot — and suggests getting a COVID-19 test before and after traveling.