Austin area on brink of moving to Stage 4 of COVID-19 risk based guidelines

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a joint special session for Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners, Central Texas health leaders announced our community is on the brink of hitting Stage 4 on the city’s risk-based guidelines.

That risk-based stage would suggest masking for even vaccinated individuals and would discourage people who are not vaccinated, or only partially, from gathering indoors or outdoors.

This graphic from APH shows when people should wear masks in relation to the current risk stage the area is in. (APH graphic)
This graphic from APH shows when people should wear masks in relation to the current risk stage the area is in. (APH graphic)

As of Monday, there are 877 active cases of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard.

This includes 196 hospitalizations, of which 70 are ICU stays. Thirty-two of these patients are on ventilators. This is the highest total of hospitalizations since March 12.

The county reported the number of breakthrough cases since Jan. 1 increased to 488 this week. “25% of those people were asymptomatic,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority. Last week, Austin-Travis County reported 333 breakthrough cases since the start of the year.

For context though, the 488 breakthrough cases are out of roughly 680,000 people who have been vaccinated since January in Travis County. Dr. Walkes reiterated that getting your vaccine was the first and more effective defense against getting the virus, and becoming seriously ill or dying from it.

“Almost all of the cases we’re seeing right now, through cases investigations, are unvaccinated,” Dr. Walkes said.

Dr. Walkes also said hospitalizations and case numbers increasing are likely a result of the delta variant.

Four delta variant cases of COVID-19 were identified in Travis County last week, and at least one of those people ended up in the hospital. Dr. Walkes says that variant is more than 60% more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

As a result of rising cases, hospitalizations and the persistence of the delta variant, the Health Authority is asking that Austin residents mask up again. Mayor Steve Adler, with the City of Austin, said even though he’s fully vaccinated, he’ll be doing just that.

He also addressed concerns about students returning to school in the fall: “We don’t want to get involved in a legal issue with the Governor, and want to try to avoid that if we can, but if there was a way right now to order that all students have to wear masks in school, we would be doing it,” Mayor Adler said.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in May that bans school districts and other “governmental entities in Texas,” from requiring or mandating masks.

Abbott said that counties, cities, public health authorities or government officials can’t require people wear masks.

“Right now it’s up to individuals,” Mayor Adler said. Businesses and places of worship can require masks are worn inside their facilities, the mayor encouraged individual organizations to do so.

Williamson County

Williamson County is also reporting an uncontrolled spread of cases.

The county announced Monday, they are now in the red-level phase of transmission — the highest level — after cases more than doubled in just one week. Cases also increased 6.5 times since the end of June, the county reported.

Residents are advised to wear masks, observe social distancing of at least 6 feet, and avoid crowds. Williamson County is also reminding residents that vaccines are currently readily available and are effective to combat serious illness.

This is a developing story and will be updated as we secure more data and information.

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