Stage 5 is coming to Austin-Travis County — but it’ll look different

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Although Austin-Travis County has been at the threshold for Stage 5 guidelines for days, the local health authority did not announce an official move to the guidelines in a joint Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council meeting Tuesday.

Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, instead announced they are reevaluating guidelines altogether.

“We are considering a new guidance that will be released in the coming days,” Walkes said. “The science has changed. We have a new variant, the delta variant, and it’s impacted our hospital systems and healthcare systems.”

For people who are vaccinated and are high-risk, the new recommendations will likely include avoiding large gatherings where masks are not required, Walkes said.

For people who are unvaccinated, the recommendations will likely include choosing curbside or delivery and only leaving home for essential activities in a mask.

The area hit the threshold for Stage 5 on July 30 after reaching a seven-day average of 50 new hospital admissions. At that time, Austin Public Health reported only around 16 ICU beds were available for the nearly 2.3 million residents in the region. As of Tuesday morning, the rolling average moved up to 61.

According to the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard, 408 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in our area with 137 in the ICU and 80 on ventilators.

Walkes also announced Tuesday that at least 29 people in Travis County have tested positive for the delta variant, though that number is likely higher due to a lack of sequence testing.

Walkes says over the past few weeks we have seen an uptick in cases among younger people. Models show strict compliance to social distancing and masking in schools will greatly help our ICU bed capacity.

“As we’re moving forward and evaluating what the new Stage 5 guidance is going to be, we are assessing the impact of schools on our case numbers and we’re also assessing the impact on our business communities,” Walkes said.

Walkes said they are going to be addressing day-to-day activities in the new guidelines. She said the guidance around masking will stay the same. That means everyone should wear a mask in public settings regardless of vaccination status.

We have reached out to Austin Public Health to ask if they can give us any additional details on what might change, and we’ll update this story once we hear back.

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