Officials from Austin Public Health, CommUnityCare and Central Health announced Sept. 2 they will distribute free personal protective equipment in areas with high rates of COVID-19 in an effort to prevent transmission as students return to school.

“We’re here today to encourage everybody to protect yourself and protect your family,” Central Health President and CEO Mike Geeslin said at a Sept. 2 event announcing the six-week distribution campaign. “It is absolutely important that we work together in these next coming weeks as we approach the next phase of this pandemic.”

That next phase involves many children and educators returning to classrooms this month. Although this return comes at a time when Travis County’s coronavirus risk has recently been downgraded from Stage 4 to Stage 3 as case counts and hospitalizations ease up, Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County interim health authority, emphasized the importance of remaining vigilant to the virus.

“We have to continue the practices which got us here: the masking, the social distancing, the personal hygiene, the washing of hands, the avoidance of touching our faces, and most importantly, staying home when sick,” Escott said. “We're going to have to continue those efforts until we have a vaccine which is widely available to our community, which is at least six to nine months away by most estimations.”

The campaign to keep up protective equipment usage begins Sept. 4 from 9-11 a.m. at the Ruiz Branch of the Austin Public Library, 1600 Grove Blvd., Austin. Several more events are scheduled throughout the month at Santa Barbara Catholic Church, the Consulate of Mexico in Austin and the Gustavo L. Garcia Recreation Center. Protective equipment and COVID-19 education materials will also be distributed at 20 CommUnityCare testing clinics with the highest positivity rates and rates of testing.

More events are forthcoming and will extend into mid-October.

Central Health Program Director Elizabeth Marrero said her organization, APH and CommUnityCare aim to give away 100,000 masks and 25,000 bottles of hand sanitizers over the course of the distribution campaign. To reach vulnerable communities, including Travis County’s disproportionately affected Latino community, Marrero said they would partner with organizations such as the Hispanic Star, Austin Latino Coalition and the 2020 census outreach staff.

More information regarding the distribution campaign can be found at