Austin-Travis County’s COVID-19 risk level downgraded to Stage 4, APH receives shipment of second doses


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County’s COVID-19 risk has been downgraded to Stage 4.

KXAN’s Alyssa Goard reports Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, said the move down from Stage 5 is effective Tuesday.

Most recent data provided on the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard shows the seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations at 55, and while it’s still within Stage 5 levels, the downward trajectory is such that health officials are comfortable making the move.

Health officials prepared to be in Stage 5 until mid-to-late February, so the move is earlier than expected. The area went to Stage 5 right before Christmas.

Since Jan. 17, the moving average of new cases has decreased 42%, and the moving average of new hospitalizations has dropped 41% since its peak on Jan. 9. Intensive care unit use is down 24% since Jan. 16, also.

“We are certainly moving in a much better direction now,” Escott said.

While the numbers are trending in a positive direction, Escott noted our region is far from out of the woods when it comes to COVID-19.

“The disease is it still spreading it’s out there, there’s still significant spread in our community so we are, regardless of age group, need to continue those protective actions,” he said.

APH’s recommendations for Stage 4 call for high-risk individuals to stay home with the exception of making essential trips (buying groceries, as an example), and that everyone limit nonessential travel. APH also recommends businesses operate at no more than 50% capacity, and schools should limit attendance at sporting events to players, coaches and parents.

Some people like Samarth Parith, who has lived in Austin for five years, are cautiously optimistic after hearing the news of the downgrade. He says he has remained isolated for a year and only just went to get his haircut on Monday, his first since before the pandemic began.

“We can continue this downward trend only if we continue to take precautions and get vaccinated as soon as we get the chance to do so,” Parith said.

Business managers who have suffered through the pandemic were glad to hear they could expand capacity. Tomlinson’s on 12 Street, a local pet store, has seen moderate success over the course of the year, but sympathized for colleagues who have been forced to maintain stricter conditions in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their smaller stores.

“Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come. That things will remain on that trend, as long as people stay smart about it,” Tomlinson’s manager Corey Drifka said.

More than 100 people have been to the ACS

Escott said there are 39 people currently at the alternate care site inside the Austin Convention Center, and that has helped mitigate surge response at area hospitals, he said. More than 100 people have received treatment there, and 64 have been released from there.

“This has also helped to decompress the hospitals and put us in a better situation in terms of our hospital capacity,” he said.

He also mentioned the antibody infusion center has helped keep people out of the hospital. Since it opened on Jan. 6, the center has treated 546 people with antibody therapy — free of charge — to help decrease the risk of hospitalization. Capacity at the infusion center is about 90 people per day, he said.

Escott said he’s still seeing transmission among high school athletes and students involved in other extracurricular activities. His recommendation to school districts has typically been to scale back or suspend them, but since that’s not exactly happening, he wants districts to proactively test those students for COVID-19.

APH receives shipment of ‘second doses’

APH announced on Twitter after its update with Escott that it has received a shipment of second doses for those who got their first shot with APH the week of Jan. 11. Staff will be contacting those people by email or phone in the next few days with information about scheduling appointments for their second doses, APH said.

“I understand there are folks who are very concerned and have a significant amount of anxiety… but have confidence in knowing you will definitely receive your second dose from us,” APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said earlier on Tuesday.

Previously, on Monday the agency tweeted there were delays in distribution and allocation to APH for these specific doses.

On Feb. 6, APH assured people it’s OK if they don’t get their second dose within the recommended 28-day timeframe with the Moderna vaccine.

“This will just delay full protection, but it will NOT make the vaccine less effective,” the agency tweeted.

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