During today's joint session of the Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners, Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority, announced Austin and Travis County are moving into Stage 3 of the Risk-Based Guidelines as hospitalization numbers continue to improve across Travis County as well as the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Trauma Service Area O (TSA-O).
"Now is not the time to let our guard down. While our numbers are dramatically better than they were at the peak of this surge, we need to remain committed with the widespread, highly transmissible Delta variant," said Dr. Walkes. "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."
In making the decision to move to Stage 3 of the Risk-Based Guidelines, Austin Public Health (APH), Travis County and local hospital partners monitor several key indicators collected during the period when COVID-19's Delta variant surged, from July through September. These include the seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions, positivity rate, the doubling time of new cases, and current ICU and ventilator patients.
According to the Texas DSHS, TSA-O has improved to 54 available Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, nine of which are pediatric ICU beds. While hospital capacity continues to improve, the average length of hospital stay, which has proven longer during the recent Delta surge, has averaged around 7.6 days for patients who almost all are unvaccinated.
The data continues to show that most cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have been among those who are not fully vaccinated. 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 60 percent, from 14.8 to 5.9 percent from its peak in early August.
The 7-day moving average for hospitalizations has decreased over 60 percent, peaking at 641.9 on Aug. 27 down to 254.9 on Oct. 11.
COVID patients in local ICUs has decreased over 62 percent from 237 patients on Aug. 22 to 90 on Oct. 11.
The Stage 3 recommendations include the following:
Fully vaccinated individuals can participate in outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop without masking if allowed by the business. They can also participate in indoor private gatherings and travel with masking. Fully vaccinated high risk individuals should wear a mask when dining indoors.
Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals, can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dine, shop, and travel with masking. High risk individuals should avoid these activities if they are non-essential.
The recommended actions outlined in the Risk-Based Guidelines have not changed, however, Stage 1 has been updated to reflect a new recommended threshold of 0-4 new hospital admissions over a 7-day moving average.
"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," said APH Interim Director Adrienne Sturrup. "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 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 are in session, the Mayor, Judge and Health Authority orders have mandated that all individuals over the age of two on public and private school property in Travis County must wear a mask.
"Today's announcement is a sign that our efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 — through wearing masks and getting vaccinated — are working," said 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."
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. Those who received the Pfizer-Moderna vaccine six months or more ago are eligible for a booster shot.
"Thanks to our community's efforts, we are lowering our COVID risk level to stage 3," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. "We must all continue to be COVID-safe as we are also in flu season. I got my flu shot last week, and am planning to get my COVID-19 booster shot soon because vaccines keep us safe! Let's all do our part – helping others get vaccinated or wearing a mask – to keep each other safe."
As of Oct. 11, Travis County has vaccinated 71 percent of those eligible, ranking as one of the State's top metropolitan counties and over nine percent higher than Texas' overall rate of 62 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 additional COVID-19 information and updates, visit www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19