COVID-19 Watch

Austin and Travis County residents should wear face masks in public, officials say

Austin-area residents should wear face masks in public, officials say

Accel Lifestyle COVID-19 face mask
Face masks should cover both the nose and mouth and attach securely behind the ears for maximum effectiveness. Photo courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

Austin and Travis County are now recommending that all residents wear face masks when outside the home, public health officials announced on April 5. The new guidelines were issued two days after the Centers for Disease Control issued a similar order in the global fight against COVID-19. 

Residents who must leave home to conduct essential business or activities should wear a fabric face mask. According to Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott, the masks could potentially provide an additional protective measure to prevent asymptomatic carriers — people who don't know they're carrying the novel coronavirus — from spreading it.

Recent numbers from the CDC say that potentially one in four people, or about 25 percent of the population infected by COVID-19, never develop symptoms.

“This is another piece of a complex process to slow the spread and flatten the curve in our community,” said Dr. Escott. “While you might otherwise feel well and healthy, we need everyone’s help to prevent the potential asymptomatic spread to others who could face more severe symptoms.”

Austin and Travis County and the CDC have both created instructions on how to create your own fabric masks at home using a scarf, bandana, or T-shirt. Fabric face masks used along with the recommended six feet of social distancing are recommended for the general public, while medical-grade masks and respirators, including N-95 masks, should be reserved for healthcare professionals. 

"For maximum effectiveness, the face covering should cover both the nose and mouth and attach securely behind the ears," the recommendation states. "Coverings should be washed after each use with hot water and detergent and hands should be washed immediately after touching the cover."

It also notes that coverings should not be placed on children younger ages 2 or younger, anyone who has trouble breathing, who is incapacitated, or cannot remove the mask on their own. 

If you are feeling ill, do not leave home. Call your healthcare provider or the COVID-19 Hotline at 512-978-8775 for guidance.