After lowering COVID precautions to local Stage 2 guidelines just in time for the return of SXSW, the City of Austin announced March 23 that it is lifting all emergency rules and orders.
Effective immediately, masks in most city facilities will now be optional, with a few exceptions such as the airport, clinical settings, and jails. Mask mandates on public school campuses and signage requirements for businesses are also no longer in effect.
While this announcement by no means marks the bitter end of the COVID-19 virus, local infection and hospitalization numbers are among the lowest seen since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to a release, these low key indicators give health leaders confidence moving into a new phase of pandemic response.
"We have not eliminated the virus but adapted to it. We now have knowledge and tools to fight COVID-19 when we are called to do so," says Austin-Travis County health authority, Dr. Desmar Walkes, in a statement. "I am confident that the community will come together if the need arises again, as they have for the past two years of this pandemic."
To track this need, the city will adopt the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Community Levels tracker in the coming days, and Austin Public Health continues to monitor data for concerning trends following spring break.
"I want to thank our public health leaders and staff, our vaccine and testing clinics, and our community for getting us to this point," says Travis County Judge Andy Brown. "This is a testament of how adaptable we have been and can be in the future."
The statement did note that continuing to wear a mask should be respected as public health officials still encourage wearing masks indoors for individuals who are at high risk — and, you know, as dictated by basic human decency. Head to Austintexas.gov for the full announcement, as well as ongoing resources for testing options and vaccines in Travis County.