For the very first time during the coronavirus pandemic, Austin and Travis County have moved into Stage 2 of the local COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.
The City of Austin announced Tuesday, May 18 that the city and county have dropped to the lesser-concerning Stage 2 level, a status the area has not reached until now. And though it notes that risk-based guidelines do not change local rules or regulations for businesses — and the recommendations for partially vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals remain unchanged — the city says the reduced risk level means individuals can ease some of their safety precautions.
The city’s Stage 2 recommendations include the following:
- Fully vaccinated individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop without precautions if allowed by the business.
- Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop with precautions.
- Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, can travel with precautions.
The move down to Stage 2 was brought on by a change in several indicators that determine the staging level: the seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 hospital admissions, the positivity rate, the doubling time of new cases, and current ICU and ventilator patients. And according to the city, all of these indicators are moving in the right direction, thanks to area-wide efforts to slow the spread and get residents vaccinated.
“As we start to progress toward the final stages of the pandemic, we are breaking down our Metropolitan Statistical Area hospital data, which shows an increasing percentage of admissions from outside this area and that our local admissions are even lower than we thought,” says Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority. “Austin-Travis County residents have made great strides in getting vaccinated and taking precautionary measures to reduce spread, and the data reflects that. I want to thank our residents for their efforts. They are paying off.”
Despite the lowered risk level, the city and Austin Public Health are continuing to encourage residents to mask up in certain situations for the time being, especially as summer approaches, which inevitably leads to more gatherings and travel.
The local masking suggestions appear to be in direct conflict with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s laissez-faire approach, which has found the governor in recent hours announcing he’d end federally funded pandemic unemployment benefits in the state next month and that he will ban Texas public schools and local governments from mandating masks, via an executive order signed Tuesday, May 18. These developments are all the more reason to get vaccinated, city officials say.
“Our vaccination efforts are working,” APH interim director Adrienne Sturrup says. “There is sufficient supply for everyone in our community to get vaccinated and we certainly encourage those who have not taken advantage of this opportunity to do so now so you can head into summer safely.”
The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently authorized for those aged 18 and older. The Pfizer vaccine is currently authorized for those aged 12 and older. Area residents still in search of a COVID-19 vaccine can schedule an appointment for a Moderna vaccine through Austin Public Health and view the locations of no-appointment-needed walk-up clinics here. A list of additional vaccine providers can be found here.