Austin-Travis County is nearing threshold for Stage 3 guidelines. Will ACL change that?

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Just as fast as case numbers and hospitalizations shot up in Austin-Travis County, they’ve come plummeting back down. Within just the last month, ICU numbers dropped below capacity and hospital admissions went down enough to give health leaders the confidence to shift the area to Stage 4 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.

As of Wednesday’s numbers, Austin-Travis County is even flirting with hitting the threshold for Stage 3 guidelines. While other metrics are factored in, the 7-day rolling average of new hospital admissions largely guides where we sit. The threshold for Stage 4 is below 30. We’re sitting exactly at 30 as of Thursday.

“Austin has, and Travis County residents have, really done an amazing job,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority. ‘When we announced going up in stage levels as the delta variant raced through our community and caused so many cases in such a short period of time, people put their masks on.”

It’s exciting, no doubt, but it also comes as we look towards one of the largest event Austin-Travis County hosts all year, Austin City Limits Music Festival. It begs the question, will ACL undo the work we’ve done?

“I think there’s a lot of questions looking into the future about what will happen, right now we’re still projecting declines in our region but there’s a lot of factors over the next few months that could change that,” Dr. Spencer Fox, associate director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, said. “I don’t think any one single event is likely to impact the whole dynamics in the city.”

The modeling consortium at UT has been working with the City of Austin to consider the risks of a large event like ACL, breaking that into three categories; the risk people show up infected, the risk transmission happens at the event and the risk that transmission bleeds into the community.

“Because the mitigation plan includes allowing people in who have negative tests only, and those who are vaccinated, we feel that that’s going to provide the lowest risk that we can possibly hope for,” Walkes said.

But for that to work, people need to stick to the rules, not only inside of ACL but when they’re out afterward, too. That means getting vaccinated, wearing a mask indoors and when social distancing is not possible, and doing all the other things health leaders have been talking about for the better part of two years now.

That will be what keeps our hospitals from seeing another surge, too. We also asked Walkes about how hospitals are preparing for ACL. After all, it’s not only COVID-19 that could land you in a hospital during a large festival.

She told us they’re convinced medical staff on-site at ACL will be able to handle most of the medical calls that come from the festival, which will ensure people don’t end up in our already crowded hospitals for festival-related injuries like heat stroke and dehydration. She says that’s worked in the past.

“We did a deep dive and looked at what the impact on ER volumes and that sort of thing and in previous years it hasn’t been as high as one might think and so we’re mitigating for that even more so with the presence of that medical team on-site,” she said.

At the end of the day, whether the area progresses toward lower risk-based guidelines depends on how vigilant the community is, ACL or not.

“We’re headed to Stage 3 and we’re hoping that we’re going to have two great weekends filled with music and be able to continue on progressing down and getting out of this scenario,” Walkes said.

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