Travis County’s top doc: Wearing face masks and maintaining social distance likely need to last at least a year

(Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
(Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

(Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County’s interim health authority, said residents will need to maintain social distancing and remain vigilant about wearing face masks when out in public for at least a year.

Escott’s comments come as Texas begins a soft reopening of the state at the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott. State parks reopened April 20; prohibitions on nonessential medical operations were relaxed April 21; and retail shops across the state will be allowed to begin a retail-to-go model starting April 24.

Abbott said he would issue further guidance on reopening society April 27.

"It's kind of part of the Texas DNA; there's been a yearning to work ever since work was shut down," Abbott said during an April 21 press conference. "That is one reason why I and my team have been working swiftly on a program to get Texans back to work. I will be making an announcement this coming Monday, April 27, about next steps for opening up Texas."

Much of the Austin-Round Rock metro has been shut down since March 25, when leaders issued a shelter-in-place order that halted all nonessential activity in an effort to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. Although Austin-Travis County leaders later extended the shelter-in-place order through May 8, the governor’s orders pre-empt local restrictions.

Escott said efforts to reopen should not be taken as any indication that the community is over the coronavirus. Prior models from The University of Texas show the area peaking in cases and hospitalizations in mid-May to early June. Escott and city leaders have since said there is no way to predict the peak, since it is based entirely on the community’s vigilance in mitigating the virus’s spread.

Escott said residents have to remain vigilant about wearing face coverings when out in public—now a local law enforceable through criminal penalty—and social distancing for “at least a year.”

“This thing has not gone away, and it’s not going away,” Escott told Austin City Council on April 21.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler echoed Escott’s comments and said the city’s ability to move forward is, in part, dependent on how widespread the community adopts face covering and social distancing measures.

Jack Flagler contributed to this report.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


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