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COVID-19

Local health officials lift COVID-19 restrictions as infections hit record low

People walk down the center of Rainey Street at night
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Pedestrians walk down Rainey Street during South by Southwest last week. Austin Public Health lifted emergency COVID orders on Wednesday, but said it will closely monitor possible infections following spring break.

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Health officials in Austin and Travis County announced Wednesday that they are lifting “all COVID-19 emergency rules and orders, effective immediately.”

Masking is now optional in most city facilities, except for the airport, clinical settings and jails. According to officials, orders related to masking in public schools, as well as sign requirements for businesses, are no longer in effect.

“Infection and hospitalization numbers are among the lowest the area has seen since the beginning of the pandemic,” officials said in a statement. “The decision to continue wearing a mask should be respected as public health officials still encourage wearing masks indoors for individuals who are high risk or provide care for someone who is high risk.”

Austin Public Health officials described this as a “new phase” in its response to the COVID pandemic. The health agency also said it plans to continue to closely monitor possible infections following spring break.

"We have not eliminated the virus but adapted to it,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority, said in a statement. "We now have knowledge and tools to fight COVID-19 when we are called to do so.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said infection rates are low right now partly because a significant amount of people in the Austin area have been vaccinated or have a prior infection, which means there’s some natural immunity in the community, as well.

"That means we can relax a little bit and take off our masks," he said. "We have to watch and see what happens next and we have to be mindful of that because we see that some spikes are returning in Western European countries, for example."

Adler said if infection rates spike again in Austin, then health officials will likely have to reinstate some masking rules for a few weeks.

KUT's Audrey McGlinchy contributed to this report.

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