AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium released a preliminary report that showed the omicron variant could lead to the “largest healthcare surge to date,” Austin-Travis County health leaders are changing the risk-based guidelines again.

The metric for the 7-day moving average of hospitalizations will change between Stage 3 and Stage 4, making it much more likely the area will shift to Stage 4 in the coming weeks. The changes are as follows:

  • Stage 1: 0-4
  • Stage 2: 5-14
  • Stage 3: 15-24 (Previously 15-29)
  • Stage 4: 25-50
  • Stage 5: 50<

“We are lowing our Stage 4 threshold to 25 because the UT modeling consortium reports that omicron will overtake delta in our community,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, said in a briefing Tuesday morning.

While the delta variant has previously been the dominant strain in Austin-Travis County, health leaders reported Tuesday that they believe the omicron variant could account for more than 90% of cases in the region now. Walkes cited CDC data.

Walkes also reported local intensive care units could be overrun heading into the new year if behaviors don’t change now. Austin Public Health’s chief epidemiologist said we saw a 34% increase in the number of cases reported last week over the week prior.

According to the city’s dashboard, the community transmission rate in Austin-Travis County has shot up over the past couple weeks to more than 100, making community transmission high. That’s a precursor to what we could see in our hospitals, Walkes said.

Austin-Travis County is currently in Stage 3 of Risk-Based Guidelines. Stage 3 recommendations include the following:    

  • Fully vaccinated low-risk individuals should wear masks indoors in gatherings with people outside your household and while traveling.
  • Fully vaccinated high-risk individuals should wear masks indoors in gatherings with people outside your household, while traveling, while dining, and while shopping.
  • Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated low-risk individuals should wear masks in all situations and get fully vaccinated.
  • Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated high-risk individuals should avoid activities unless essential and get fully vaccinated
COVID-19 risk-based guidelines chart
Courtesy Austin Public Health

Health leaders are urging community members to start masking in public spaces regardless of vaccination status, test over the holidays and during travel, and get fully vaccinated including a booster shot.

“Can you help us?” Walkes said.

“Instead of can, will you? Because I know you’re able,” Adrienne Sturrup, the interim director of APH, followed.

Vaccine clinics and Austin Public Health testing sites will be closed over the holidays but will have extended hours the day before Christmas Eve. You can find those clinics on Austin Public Health’s website here.