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Fauci says the U.S. is no longer in the 'pandemic phase.' APH says we should still act like we are.

Jeff Levine places a face covering over the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue at Auditorium Shores in April 2020.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Jeff Levine places a face covering over the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue at Auditorium Shores in April 2020.

Despite Dr. Anthony Fauci's comment that the U.S. is out of the pandemic phase, Austin Public Health said we're not in the clear yet. The agency is urging everyone eligible to get vaccinated, mask when possible and test for COVID-19 before gatherings like graduation or Mother's Day.

In his interview Wednesday with PBS NewsHour, President Biden's chief medical adviser contextualized his response, saying the U.S. isn't seeing 900,000 new cases a day, but there's still a deadly virus out there.

On Thursday, APH Medical Director Dr. Desmar Walkes told KUT the drop in new cases and hospitalizations in the Austin area has been a "light at the end of the tunnel." But, she said, APH test numbers and wastewater monitoring show the BA.2 omicron variant is still present.

"We're not out of the woods," she said. "It's not as bad as it was, but it's not as bad as it could be."

Walkes said Austin officials aren’t seeing a rise in cases like in the Northeast, but she’s worried Austin could backslide, which could delay a relative return to normal.

"We're not seeing indications that we have to sound the alarm and increase our guidance with regards to mitigation strategies in the community," she said.

Walkes added that people at risk of serious illness should still mask up and that transit riders and travelers should do the same. Capital Metro and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport both discontinued masking requirements after a federal judge struck down national mandates earlier this month.

Walkes said APH understands "fatigue is real," but she urged Central Texans to test for COVID-19 ahead of gatherings or if they're symptomatic.

"This has been a very long time to give the same message, and we're very cognizant of that," she said. "[But] checking before you go, so that you're not going into that mass gathering with an infection, is going to be important."

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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