It's worth a shot

Austin drops down to Stage 3 of COVID-19 guidelines, but officials urge vigilance

Austin drops to Stage 3 COVID guidelines, but officials urge vigilance

Coronavirus COVID-19
We're not out of the woods yet, but things are moving in the right direction locally. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Just weeks after downgrading to Stage 4 and directly trailing the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which attracted visitors to town by the thousands, Austin and Travis County have dropped back down to Stage 3 of its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.

During a joint session on Tuesday, October 12 with the Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners, Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, announced Austin and Travis County have moved into Stage 3 risk as area COVID-19 hospitalization numbers continue to improve.

Despite the change to a lower risk level, health authorities urge the need to remain vigilant, particularly in the face of the Delta variant and the upcoming flu season, and for the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

“Now is not the time to let our guard down,” Walkes says in a release. “While our numbers are dramatically better than they were at the peak of this surge, we need to remain committed [to fighting] the widespread, highly transmissible Delta variant. Flu season is just beginning, and it will not take much to trigger another surge of cases and overburden our hospital systems again. Get vaccinated, get tested, and stay home if you are sick.”

Prior to the announcement, Austin had been at Stage 4 only since September 28, and at Stage 5, the highest level of risk, the previous month, marking significant and relatively quick drops in the area’s positivity rate and hospitalizations.

The positivity rate, or the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 out of the total number of people tested in a given week, has dropped 60 percent, from 14.8 percent to 5.9 percent from its peak in early August. 

Another key indicator Austin Public Health, Travis County, and local hospital partners monitor when weighing risk-based guidelines, the seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions, has decreased more than 60 percent, peaking at 641.9 on August 27, and down to 254.9 on October 11, according to city officials.

Additionally, the number of COVID-19 patients in local ICUs has dropped by more than 62 percent from 237 patients on August 22 to 90 on October 11.

The city release offers a reminder that with area schools in session, local health orders mandate that all individuals older than the age of 2 on public and private school property in Travis County must wear a mask.

And the Stage 3 announcement — combined with the push for residents to get fully vaccinated — comes just hours after Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order stating that no Texas entity can require anyone, including customers and employees, to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

City officials did not directly address the governor’s latest executive order, but did urge locals to remain steadfast in vaccine efforts, also noting that as of October 11, Travis County has vaccinated 71 percent of eligible individuals, making the area one of the state’s highest vaccinated counties.

“We have asked so much of our community throughout this pandemic, and time and again they have risen to the challenge by taking care of one another,” says Adrienne Sturrup, APH interim director. “This latest surge has proven no different. When we work together to wear masks, get vaccinated, and stay home when we are sick, we can protect our community, our hospitals, our healthcare workers, and drive COVID cases down.”

The city and county recommendations during Stage 3 include the following:

  • Fully vaccinated individuals can participate in indoor gatherings and outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop without masking if allowed by the business. They should still mask when traveling. And fully vaccinated high-risk individuals should continue to mask up when dining indoors.
  • Partially or unvaccinated individuals can participate in indoor gatherings and outdoor private gatherings and dine, shop, and travel while masking. High-risk individuals should avoid such activities if they are not essential.

“Today’s announcement is a sign that our efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 — through wearing masks and getting vaccinated — are working,” says Mayor Steve Adler. “This is great news but our ICU capacity is still fragile, the Delta variant is still highly contagious, and we are entering flu season. We urge everyone to continue to stay vigilant of our health system and mask up, get vaccinated, and get your annual flu shot.”

Immunocompromised individuals are currently eligible for a third dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. And those who received the Pfizer vaccine six months ago or more are eligible for a booster shot.

COVID-19 vaccines 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, vaccine and booster shot info, and to get updates, visit AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.