COVID UPDATE

Austin moves back into Stage 4 of COVID-19 risk guidelines as Delta variant surges

Austin reenters Stage 4 of COVID-19 risk guidelines as variant surges

Coronavirus COVID-19
Stay safe and mask up, Austin! Photo courtesy of the CDC

As expected, given the recent surge in local COVID-19 cases and growing concerns about the Delta variant, Austin and Travis County health officials announced Friday, July 23 that the area is now back at Stage 4, the second most-concerning level on the scale of risk-based guidelines.

In a City of Austin news release — which notes the Delta variant’s increased presence in Central Texas and the fact that more younger people are being hospitalized than during previous COVID-19 surges — says the seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions crossed the threshold of more than 30 admissions per day, propelling the move to the increased risk level of Stage 4.

The seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions — which increased more than 203 percent since July 4 from 63 to 202 hospitalizations on July 22 — is one of several key indicators Austin Public Health, Travis County, and local hospital partners monitor when weighing risk-based guidelines.

They also include the number of people testing positive out of the total number of people tested in a given week, a figure that health officials say has tripled from 3.2 percent to 9.6 percent, as well as the number of COVID-19 patients in area ICUs, which has jumped almost 242 percent from 24 people on July 4 to 82 people on July 22.

“Each of us has a personal choice to make: Will we do our part to stop disease transmission by getting vaccinated and taking the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others, or will we be part of its continued spread?” Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, says. “COVID-19 is still present and continues to burden our healthcare community and we need to end the cycle of transmission.” 

Also driving the risk-level uptick is concern is that the new variant may be spreading from vaccinated individuals to the unvaccinated, particularly younger children who are not yet cleared to get the vaccine. As such, health officials recommend masking up when possible and maintaining social distance.

Stage 4 recommendations include the following:

  • Fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask when participating in indoor private 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 private gatherings, travel, dining and shopping unless it’s essential, and should wear a mask when conducting essential activities.

Health authorities also note that getting the COVID-19 vaccination continues to be the most effective way for individuals to protect themselves, but they caution that with only 62.41 percent of local residents being fully vaccinated, the community continues to be vulnerable, particularly to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

“I hate that once again we find our hospitals filling up. We wanted so much for this to be over. But once again, we must dig deep to protect our ICUs and our exhausted doctors and nurses, and stop this Delta variant. Please take the shot,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler says. “After you are vaccinated, wearing a mask indoors is the least intrusive and most effective thing we can and must do to prevent further spread.”

Adler goes on to note that given area children are returning to schools in mere weeks amid no mask mandate, it’s imperative that residents take it upon themselves to make precautionary measures whenever possible.

“If I could order all children and teachers to mask without ending up in court, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Adler says. “It’s up to each person and each business now to decide how badly we want to avoid a return to [a higher stage], where unvaccinated people face further limits in activities like eating out and shopping. Let’s wear masks indoors and avoid going there.”

COVID-19 vaccinations continue to be free and require neither identification nor health 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 COVID-19 information and updates, visit AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.