Thursday, July 15, 2021

Austin Public Health Moves to Stage 3 of Risk-Based Guidelines

Increase in risk level follows uptick in cases and hospitalizations. Positive cases of Delta variant confirmed. 

Austin, Texas – The level of risk for contracting COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County has increased, especially among unvaccinated individuals. Confirmed cases have doubled over the past week and new hospital admissions have neared 20 on the 7-day moving average – well above the threshold of 15 to move into Stage 3. 

COVID-19 vaccinations continue to prove extremely effective in protecting those who have completed the required series of shots. However, with only 61.5% of local residents being fully vaccinated, unvaccinated individuals continue to facilitate the spread of new variants. 

The data is showing a majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been among those who are not fully vaccinated. APH case investigators are gathering information on four confirmed cases of the Delta variant in Travis County, as of July 14. 

"While the Delta variant has likely been circulating in our area for a while, we now have confirmation through sequencing that it is here," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. "We know that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and continues to be effective against the virus and its variants. It is now more important than ever to get vaccinated – do not gamble your health and that of your family and your community." 

Stage 3 recommendations include the following:    

  • Fully vaccinated individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop without masking if allowed by the business. They can also travel with masking. 

  • Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals, who are low-risk, can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dine, shop, and travel with masking.  

  • Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals, who are high-risk, should avoid non-essential indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dining, shopping, and travel. 

"It is important to read the room and determine the risk to yourself and your family, especially if you are unvaccinated," Dr. Walkes added. "Especially with school starting in four weeks, we need to continue to work towards getting anyone who is 12 or older vaccinated to protect our community." 

The Risk-Based Guidelines that correlate with the Stages for Austin-Travis County 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. It is important to note that everyone should continue to follow any additional requirements of local businesses, venues and, schools regardless of vaccination status or stage. 

While APH monitors the 7-day moving average of COVID-19 new hospital admissions as the primary key indicator for the Risk-Based Guidelines, additional key indicators, including positivity rate, the doubling time of new cases and, current ICU and ventilator patients, are monitored to determine the current staging.   

"Disturbingly, we are now experiencing a rise in COVID hospitalizations that could overwhelm our city's ICUs. Almost all of these hospitalizations involve those who have not been vaccinated. This is a plea for people to become vaccinated, so we do not put our ICU capacity at risk," said City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler. "It is critically important that we do everything we can do to lower the infection level in our community, especially with school starting in 30 days. Masking remains critically important for those not vaccinated and for vulnerable people even if they have been vaccinated. Thank you to public health care workers and hospital staff who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic, and please know we are doing everything we can to not put you at risk again." 

Despite meeting the initial goal of getting 70% of eligible residents vaccinated with at least one dose, there is additional progress that needs to be made to reach herd immunity, which includes getting children 12 years and older vaccinated in time for back-to-school.  

"We are laser-focused on addressing the barriers that prevent people from getting the vaccine, particularly in communities of color that have been more severely impacted by the virus," Interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said. "We know the vaccines work, and are working with our partners and community leaders to get shots in arms."   

For neighborhoods with large concentrations of people who have not yet received their vaccinations, the combination of back-to-school and the rapid spread of the Delta variant are cause for concern among public health experts. Now is the time to mitigate further spread of disease and save lives. 

"The best thing to do to fight COVID-19 remains getting fully vaccinated," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. "COVID-19 is primarily being transmitted between unvaccinated people, which means folks who aren't vaccinated yet need to do so immediately. Our kids and those that can't get vaccinated yet rely on those of us who are able to do so to keep them safe." 

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


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