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ACL Fest's COVID-19 protocols had mixed results. Will things change for weekend two?

As the Austin City Limits Music Festival heads into its second weekend in Zilker Park, event presenters and city officials continue to tweak COVID-19 protocols. Gate checks for vaccination cards or recent negative tests appeared to go smoothly during the first weekend, but plans for mask zones were another story.

Signs near the front of stages designated those more crowded areas as "masks required," but few people were seen wearing masks in those zones. Enforcement efforts appeared nonexistent; American-Statesman reporters covering the event witnessed no instances of event staffers telling festivalgoers to put on masks in those zones. 

But anyone who's been out and about on the local entertainment scene lately knows that such rules are hard to enforce. Attendees at a Gary Clark Jr. show at Waterloo Park this summer also largely eschewed the same rule.

MORE:Are people wearing masks at ACL Fest? Here's how COVID safety protocols are going

A sign at ACL Fest's first weekend marks a "masks required" area near the stage. Hardly anyone wore masks in those designated areas.

Austin Public Health issued a statement Monday that read, in part: "Environmental Health Officers were onsite doing assessments and identified additional opportunities for mask-zone education and enforcement for Weekend 2 — this includes more signage and announcements at the stage and in line where people crowd. APH will work with ACL event organizers to continue to support their enforcement efforts."

Festival presenter C3 issued its own statement Tuesday: "ACL Fest organizers made the adjustments recommended by Austin Public Health during Weekend One, and those will remain in place for Weekend Two."

Sara Henry, spokesperson for the Austin Center for Events, added Tuesday afternoon that festival organizers "have agreed to looping audio about masking at entrances and in (queueing) areas" for the second half of the festival starting Friday.

More:Everything you need to know about ACL Fest, including COVID rules

Neither Austin Public Health nor C3 addressed specific questions about whether or how mask-wearing would be enforced.

According to the festival's official health policies, attendees are required to bring either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result to get into the festival grounds and masks were supposed to be mandatory in areas of Zilker Park where it is difficult to maintain social distancing, such as crowded spaces near the stages. Masks also are required on festival shuttle buses, in entrance lines and in the festival's on-site merchandise store. 

Fans wait in a line for drinks at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Friday. Austin Public Health officials and festival organizers said they would increase messaging about the need for social distancing and mask wearing during the festival's second weekend.

The health agency said officials "will continue to remind individuals attending any events the importance of wearing masks when you cannot socially distance and to watch for symptoms for up to 14 days after the event ends."

In advance of the first weekend, Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, warned festival ticket holders not to attend unless fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Then as now, Travis County was in Stage 4 of the agency's risk-based pandemic guidelines. Stage 4 is the second-most critical stage and is triggered when the rolling weekly average of new daily hospital admissions are between 30 and 50. The guidelines range from Stage 1 to Stage 5, which indicates the highest threat level for community spread of the coronavirus. Under Stage 4 guidelines, masks are recommended for those who are fully vaccinated but still at high risk of severe disease as they travel, gather outdoors and shop. Those activities are not recommended for anyone who is not fully vaccinated, save for when it's essential. 

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were declining this week, after a deadly summer surge of infections.

Austin Public Health uses a rolling seven-day average of hospitalizations to determine how the most medically vulnerable can protect against the coronavirus. The new average, 24, is the lowest since July. If the Austin area can average 15 to 29, health officials would consider moving back to Stage 3, where the guidelines say it would be safe enough for anyone fully vaccinated to again shop, dine and gather outdoors without wearing a mask.

Even those who are at high-risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19, but are fully vaccinated, could safely shop and gather outdoors without a face covering, according to the Stage 3 guidelines. 

In Travis County, about 70% of eligible residents were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, with health care workers having administered 1.6 million doses of vaccine. By comparison, about 62% of eligible residents across the state are fully vaccinated. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers someone fully vaccinated two weeks after they've been given a single-dose shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or a second shot of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Free vaccination clinics Thursday

Appointments are not necessary.

  • Delco Activity Center, 4601 Pecan Brook Drive in East Austin. 9 a.m. to noon. Moderna (18 and older), Pfizer (12 and older)
  • Sims Elementary School, 1203 Springdale Road in East Austin. 2 to 7 p.m. Moderna (18 and older), Pfizer (12 and older)
  • Meadowbrook Apartments, 1201 W. Live Oak St. in South Austin. 4 to 6 p.m. Moderna (18 and older), Pfizer (12 and older)
  • Ambrosio Apartments, 14301 N. Interstate-35 in Pflugerville. 4 to 7 p.m. Pfizer (12 and older)
  • JD’s Supermarket, 9111 FM 812 in Southeast Austin. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Pfizer (12 and older)
  • JD’s Supermarket, 8807 Cameron Road in Northeast Austin, TX 78754. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Pfizer (12 and older)
  • JD’s Supermarket, 6506 Decker Lane in East Austin. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Pfizer (12 and older)
  • JD’s Supermarket, 6759 FM 535 in Cedar Creek. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Pfizer (12 and older)
  • Far Out Lounge, 8504 S. Congress Ave. in South Austin. 6:30 to 8 p.m. Moderna (18 and older), Pfizer (12 and older)