A spring break is planned for many universities in the coming weeks. Also this month: the end of the nationwide mask mandate.

AUSTIN, Texas – When it comes to going to Austin in a time like spring break, South Congress Avenue is usually on the list of places with all of its quirky, locally owned shops, restaurants, and more.

But the pandemic has slowed recreational travel for some time. Now some South Congress business owners – like Brandon Hodge, the owner of Monkey see monkey do and Big top candy store – Let’s say pedestrian traffic is increasing.

“Traffic has really increased significantly since the big freeze down here,” he said. “It’s not just the beginning of spring, a lot of people are heading out for various spring vacations that tend to fluctuate in Texas this week and next. And only the general cabin fever has really got people back on the streets. “

As Hodge mentioned, March is the spring break for many universities. Some, like Texas A&M University, decided to only do a three day weekend instead of a whole week “to minimize long trips.”

Also this month happened: the End of the nationwide mask mandate on Wednesday March 10th.

The repeal of the Mask Ordinance was just incredibly short-sighted and a terrible blow to small businesses in general. The position it puts us in now [is] In order to enforce guidelines that many people think because the governor lifted the mandate, we are no longer authorized to enforce guidelines, “said Hodge in the middle of a pandemic and holding on for dear life.”

Hodge is also the president of the South Congress Merchant’s Association, That consists of companies on the popular strip. He said they unanimously agreed to continue enforcing their mask guidelines as well as capacity limits.

“Our influence only extends to our front doors. However, we have found that most customers are still respectful and respect those boundaries,” said Hodge, adding, “We try to protect our employees and our customers, and we do ‘I’ll keep going as long as necessary. “

You can find a list of companies that still need masks Here.

When it comes to hotels, some in Austin plan to keep their public space masking mandates intact.

In a statement on Monday, a Hilton The spokesman said in part, “The recent executive orders of some US governors on mask mandates and Covid-19 restrictions focus on the potential of a post-pandemic world. Compliance with the guidelines of the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the CDC has Receive our guests With team members safe during the pandemic, Hilton’s policies remain unchanged at this time. “

In addition, a spokesman for the Austin Marriott Downtown KVUE announced Monday that masks will continue to be needed in public spaces.

Katie Soltas, dual marketing manager for Otis Hotel, AC Hotel Austin-University and Moxy Austin-University, told KVUE Monday that all three facilities will continue to require masks in public spaces.

Doctors also hope people will stay vigilant.

“I think the most important thing is not necessarily to warn, but to continue to be careful,” said Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an infectious disease specialist and a member of the COVID-19 Task Force for the Texas Medical Association. “I think the biggest message for people is to get vaccinated if you can because that will protect you. But if you haven’t been vaccinated, you still have to hold back and really try to be so careful and protective for you and to be your family as possible. “

He added that the Texans shouldn’t disappoint our guard just yet, even though the mask mandate is lifted.

“And so, until we can get that vaccine percentage up, take the vaccines if you can. People still have to be careful. People still have to mask. They have to try.” [be as] physically removed [as] possible, “he said.

The spring break and the end of the statewide mask mandate and business restrictions all happen the same week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals.

Among other things, the CDC said those who are fully vaccinated can visit other fully vaccinated individuals indoors without wearing masks or physically distancing themselves, and indoors with unvaccinated individuals from a single household who are at low risk for have severe COVID-19 illness, be able to attend without masks or physically distance themselves.

Dr. Brian Metzger, the medical director for infectious diseases St. David’s Medical Center, said, while he thinks the guide is an exciting first step, he also believes people should stay cautious.

“They have been very consistent with their leadership over the past nine months, especially with the things we need to do to stay safe. And that is wearing a mask, avoiding large crowds, and not getting around people indoors that are poorly ventilated, “said Metzger.

Regarding the spring break, Metzger said he was still concerned, but not as much as last year, as several companies are currently offering vaccines and people are starting to get vaccinated.

“I’m a little less concerned, but it’s still about behavior,” he said. “I think the overall message is that we are not done yet, but there is this light at the end of the tunnel and we are going to vaccinate a large number of people [in] March, April and May. We will significantly improve our goals of vaccinating and achieving herd immunity over the next few months. So we’re really going to turn a big corner this month and leave this month behind us. “

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