Saturday, February 26, 2022

Austin returns to Stage 4 of Risk-Based Guidelines

The Austin-Travis County community is shifting to Stage 4 of Austin-Travis County’s Risk-Based Guidelines. This change comes as key metrics show declining infections and an improved Community Transmission Rate (CTR), but health experts say we are not out of the woods and encourage everyone to keep up masking, social distancing and staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccines.

The COVID-19 omicron outbreak peaked in Jan. 2022. Among those who tested with Austin Public Health (APH), as many as 1 in 3 COVID-19 tests were positive. This spike led to widespread staffing shortages and an influx of infection among children.

“With omicron, we saw test numbers and positivity rates that surpassed our previous records during the pandemic. This surge posed a threat to our hospital systems and our community as a whole,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “It’s thanks to the many community members who got vaccinated, continue to wear masks and follow safe practices that our numbers are moving in the right direction.”

APH monitors several key indicators to determine staging. Key factors include the seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions, positivity rate and CTR.

“We can’t simply make this virus go away because we are ready to get back to normal”, said APH Director Adrienne Sturrup. “We need to stay the course and that means getting boosted. All of our clinics offer all three vaccines and subsequent boosters. Take some time out of your day to get up to date with your vaccine protection.”

Stage 4 recommendations include the following:  

  • Fully vaccinated and/or boosted individuals should wear masks when gathering with people outside of their household, traveling, dining and shopping. 
  • Partially or unvaccinated individuals and those who need their booster dose should wear masks, avoid gatherings with people outside of their household, only travel and shop if essential and choose takeaway/curbside options for dining. Get fully vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible.

“Because we have come together once again, worn our masks, and made smart choices as a community, we have slowed the spread of COVID-19,” said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. “But we must remain committed to keeping each other safe and healthy as we welcome visitors from across the world and enjoy the spring festival season.”

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 stage or an individual's vaccination status.

“Today’s announcement comes with cautious optimism. But, we still face a special risk with people about to arrive from all over for South by Southwest and the rodeo," said Mayor Steve Adler. "Let’s all get boosted and wear masks through these spring festival events.  Doing this protects our city."

This week a laboratory confirmed Austin-Travis County’s first case of the BA.2 subvariant of omicron. Research indicates that the BA.2 subvariant is 39% more transmissible than omicron, however, getting vaccinated and boosted once eligible still offers the best protection from COVID-19 and its current variants.

APH vaccine and testing information 

People can find vaccine providers using Vaccines.gov (Vacunas.gov in Spanish) or by texting their zip code to 438829 (822862 in Spanish) to find a nearby clinic.   

APH clinics offer COVID-19 vaccinations and testing without appointment, although creating an account online in advance saves time. COVID-19 vaccinations are free and require neither identification nor insurance. For more information and to schedule an appointment, call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 or visit www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.     

To help reserve our emergency rooms for medical emergencies, people who are asymptomatic or experiencing minor symptoms may inquire about testing options by calling 2-1-1 or 877-541-7905, or by visiting 211texas.org. Please don’t call 9-1-1 for testing information.

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