AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health is starting to see the impact of the school year on COVID-19 case numbers, Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, said in a joint Travis County Commissioners and Austin City Council meeting Tuesday morning.

“Last year at this time we had school reopening delayed and we had masking in place, but as of the last two weeks we’ve had an increase of cases up to 414 additional cases,” Walkes said.

She noted that even though at the beginning of the pandemic health expert considered children to be less likely to transmit COVID-19 to others, that could have simply been a result of students not going to school.

“We are seeing transmission,” Walkes said. “These first couple of days of school reopening have shown that there are many, many children who are going to be affected by COVID-19 if we don’t protect them with masking.”

The decision about whether or not school districts move back to a virtual model is up to individual districts, Walkes said. She said APH is in constant contact with local school districts to share case numbers with them and inform them of trends.

The local health authority also said they’re taking a serious look at those case numbers to determine whether or not they revisit the current guidelines in place.

“We have to put the brakes on now and we have to take a serious look at those situations that are going to put more strain on what we’re currently experiencing,” she said.

As of the latest posted health authority rules, “students, staff, and visitors over the age of two are required to wear a face covering while on school property or school buses during Stages 3, 4, and 5 as set forth in Austin Public Health’s Risk-Based Chart.”

APH confirmed with KXAN that should our area drop down to Stage 1 or 2 of the risk-based guidelines chart, that rule would no longer apply. That would require a dramatic decrease in the rolling 7-day average of hospital admissions, the main driver for those guideline changes.

According to the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard, 638 people are in area hospitals with COVID-19 right now, 232 people are in intensive care units and 162 are on ventilators.

“Our curve is showing a continued increase,” Walkes said. “We surpassed our ICU numbers from previous spikes. Our ventilator use has also increased and we need our public to do what they can to help us with decreasing these numbers so that our ICU capacity will not continue to be stretched.”

Deaths because of COVID-19 have also gone up because of the delta variant. Walkes said we’ve seen 26 additional deaths since the beginning of the month.

As always, Walkes said the best way to protect against serious illness or death is to get vaccinated.

It appears there’s an increase in people hearing that message and going to get their shot. APH reported that they’ve seen a 1% increase in people getting their first dose locally since last week.

As KXAN has previously reported, people of color are still lagging behind when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine first and second doses.

Walkes said now that the Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA, people need to feel comfortable enough to go get their shot.

“It is important that we continue to spread the message to the community that vaccinations are safe. We now have full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, so if there’s any question about its safety, it’s been validated and proved by the FDA,” she said.

To find a vaccine near you, check out the Austin-Travis County vaccine page.