Austin Public Health Moves to Stage 4 of Risk-Based Guidelines

Health Authority credits the “power of people working together” as Travis County sees decrease in number of COVID-19 cases

Staff Reports

Austin, Texas – During today’s joint session of City of Austin Council and Travis County Commissioners, Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority, announced Austin Public Health (APH) is moving into Stage 4 of the Risk-Based Guidelines. While the number of those who require care in intensive care units (ICUs) in the 11-county Trauma Service Area Region-O remains high, the seven-day moving averages of new COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and positivity rates continue to drop in the Austin-Travis County metropolitan area. 

“The Delta variant showed us how unpredictable and deadly this virus can be, especially for the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Walkes. “However, even as we continue to see the data trending in a positive direction, we cannot act as if the pandemic is over. Our hospital and ICUs still remain at critical levels, and we need the public to continue to work together to ensure we do not contribute to a new surge.”

In making the decision to move to Stage 4 of the Risk-Based Guidelines, APH, Travis County and local hospital partners monitor several key indicators including the seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions, positivity rate, the doubling time of new cases, and current ICU and ventilator patients. 

While the number of new cases has decreased, patients suffering from the Delta variant experience longer stays in the hospital and intensive care units contributing to hospitals still experiencing systems being overtaxed. Key data points to highlight are: 

  • The positivity rate, weekly number of people who test positive out of the total number of people tested, has dropped 44 percent, from 14.8 to 8.3 percent from peak in early August. 
  • The 7-day moving average for hospitalizations has decreased almost 33 percent, peaking at 641.9 on Aug. 27 down to 440 on Sept. 27. 
  • COVID patients in local ICUs has decreased nearly 21 percent from 230.6 patients on Aug. 27 to 181.1 on Sept. 27. 

Stage 4 recommendations include the following:  

  • Fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask when participating in indoor gatherings, traveling, and dining or shopping, and should wear a mask for outdoor gatherings, if they are unable to socially distance. 
  • Partially or unvaccinated individuals should avoid gatherings, travel, dining, and shopping unless essential. Wear a mask when conducting essential activities.

“While vaccination is a personal decision, those decisions have a direct impact on the health of our community and the hospital system we share with surrounding counties, as well as those who are too young to get vaccinated,” said Interim Austin Public Health Director Adrienne Sturrup. “We cannot afford to take our foot off the gas if we are going to crush this virus and avoid additional surges. As we move into the Fall after an exhausting end of the summer, we need everyone to get vaccinated, for both COVID-19 and the Flu, get tested if they have symptoms and stay home if they are sick.”     

The Risk-Based Guidelines correlate with five distinct stages of risk for Austin-Travis County and are not changes to local rules or regulations for businesses; they are guidelines and recommendations for individual actions and behaviors based on levels of risk of exposure in the community. Everyone should continue to follow any additional requirements put in place by local businesses, venues, and schools regardless of their vaccination status or stage. With schools in session, APH recommends that those under the age of 12 wear a mask until a vaccine for their age range is approved. 

“Our efforts to mask and vaccinate are working to fight the virus,” said City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “We should be proud of what we’ve done even with the opening of schools, the Labor Day holiday, and the emergence of the variant. Please continue to mask, encourage everyone to get vaccinated, and get your flu shot because our hospitals and our emergency response remain stressed.” 

Booster Shots Authorized 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized and recommends certain groups should or may receive a booster shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least 6 months after both Pfizer vaccine doses. Mixing brands of vaccination is not recommended, meaning boosters are ONLY allowed for those who received Pfizer and meet the eligible criteria. Eligibility for the Pfizer booster has been limited to:

  • 65 years or older
  • 18 years and older who are at high-risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms
  • Individuals who are in high-risk occupational exposure fields

Individuals receiving a Pfizer booster shot will need to bring their CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card to be updated.

COVID-19 vaccinations continue to prove extremely effective in protecting those who have completed the required series of doses for Moderna and Pfizer, as well as the single dose of Johnson and Johnson. Individuals who are considered immunocompromised are eligible for a third dose of Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. 

Vaccine Information 
As of Sept. 27, Travis County has vaccinated 70.67 percent of those eligible, ranking as one of the State’s top metropolitan counties and over eight percent higher than Texas’ overall rate of 61.33 percent, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services
 
COVID-19 vaccinations are free and require neither identification nor insurance. Residents can locate providers in their area using Vaccines.gov or they can text their zip code to 438829 (822862 in Spanish) to find a nearby clinic.

For additional business guidance, visit www.ATXrecovers.com for recommendations to help prioritize the well-being of employees and customers.  

For COVID-19 information and updates, visit www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.

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