AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health and other officials announced at a news conference Thursday they are moving the area back to Stage 3 of the COVID-19 risk-based guidelines due to rising cases of COVID-19 and the emergence of the delta variant in Travis County.
Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, said intensive care units are strained due to the increase in cases and the 7-day rolling average for new cases tripling from 30 to 90.
“This has to stop,” Walkes said, “and we know how to make that happen.”
Data from the Travis County COVID-19 dashboard shows the 7-day rolling average of new hospitalizations for COVID-19 is 20, firmly within the Stage 3 range. The positivity rate has increased to 6.6% and 128 new cases were reported Wednesday.
The move to Stage 3 alters recommendations for those at high risk of infection. APH suggests avoiding indoor and outdoor gatherings, along with travel and dining/shopping, unless essential for high-risk people who aren’t fully vaccinated. Nothing changes for people who have been fully vaccinated.
The above chart from APH shows the different recommendations for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Walkes pleaded with people to vaccinate their children as well, saying they are seeing more pediatric COVID-19 cases than before. She said she wants kids to get vaccinated before the start of the upcoming school year.
She added she’s asked the state for hospital staffing help and to reopen antibody therapy centers.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he “hated” that he was talking at a press conference about moving back stages and talking about COVID-19.
“This is kind of gut-check time for our community,” he said. “We’re concerned about each person in our community, especially those who are at greater risk.”
He said that “almost everyone” who is currently in the hospital with COVID-19 hasn’t been vaccinated.
Interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said the agency is “really taking its show on the road” when it comes to getting people vaccinated.
“We’re trying to be places where people work, pray, play and live,” she said. “We’re at this point in the game where we need to be intentional in our focus and the messaging.”
An approach Sturrup said APH is taking is educationing first. She said by being in communities on a consistent basis giving out information about the vaccines, hopefully, that will convince people to take the shot.
“We need to give people enough information so they feel comfortable in making the choice to get themselves and their families vaccinated,” Sturrup said.
With neighborhood and drive-thru test sites no longer operational, APH offers in-home testing from Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Anyone who wants to request in-home testing should call APH to set it up.
Through all its partnerships, particularly with Travis County Collaborative, APH has doled out more than 400,000 shots, and 70% of the eligible population in the county is at least partially vaccinated.
“Overall, we’re very happy with that,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said. “But we’re still working very hard to get all the zip codes and neighborhoods in the county are at that level. We’re not going to stop until we get there.”
Walkes said she’s confident the community will once again take initiative and do its part in driving case numbers down again.
“We’ve had two spikes in cases, one last July and one in January, and this community worked together to do to reduce those case numbers by doing the things we know work,” she said. “This must be renewed and revived.”