Can I take my mask off yet? Health leaders reevaluating COVID-19 risk-based guidelines


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Even though Austin-Travis County has been within the threshold for Stage 3 guidelines for a week, health leaders have not officially moved the area out of the more strict Stage 4 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines yet.

So what gives?

In a media Q&A Friday, Austin-Travis County health authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said they are reevaluating their risk-based guidance altogether. She said there will be “more to come as we finalize those” but did not give a timeline for when the new guidance would be put out.

When asked the likelihood of the area officially moving to Stage 3 guidelines by early next week, Walkes did say it was likely but added that it is dependent on people’s behavior.

“If the trend continues, it’s very likely that will happen,” she said.

Stage 3 guidelines, as they’re laid out right now, would allow vaccinated people to ditch the mask in some situations like shopping or outdoor gatherings.

Below is a look at the COVID-19 risk-based chart as it’s laid out by APH now, depending on vaccination status.

COVID-19 risk-based guidelines for unvaccinated residents

It comes as hospitalizations and the number of people in local ICUs continue to drop. According to the Austin-Travis County dashboard, the rolling 7-day average of new hospital admissions is down to 24. That’s largely the metric health leaders use to guide risk stages right now.

It also shows that 302 people are in area hospitals right now with COVID-19 and that 135 people are in the ICU. That’s a significant drop from even just a few weeks ago.

“We’ve made it over that hump,” Janet Pichette, the chief epidemiologist for Austin Public Health, said of recent case numbers.

Health leaders also talked Friday about their concerns heading into winter months, when other illnesses like flu are prevalent and people tend to gather for the holidays.

Walkes said they are putting a plan together for what she says is being called “flu-vid.”

“We’re at a place of reevaluating what is going to be our new reality,” Walkes said.

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