Austin-Travis County not moving to Stage 2 yet, health leaders explain why

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County will stay in Stage 3 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines for now, local health leaders announced Friday morning. They pointed to community transmission rate as the reason, which they said is substantial in Travis County, even though hospital and case numbers are down.

“A lot of people are asking why haven’t we shifted our staging to Stage 2 and I want to talk about that and explain that doctors like to not just treat disease, but we like to prevent disease and illness,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, started the briefing Friday morning.

Walkes said there are many factors that go into the risk-based guidelines. The metric largely used to this point, at least in public messaging, was the 7-day moving average of hospital admissions. That metric will still be used, but Walkes says they are also adding the 7-day moving average of community transmission rate to their dashboard to help show the community why APH might not be ready to move the area to a new stage even when hospitalizations are down.

Health leaders say community transmission rate, which is not new to health leaders but hasn’t been discussed in briefings until this week, is an indicator of how likely you are to get COVID-19 in a county.

Over the past week the Travis County area saw a transmission rate of 50 cases per 100,000, Walkes said. To get to Stage 2 we would have to see a transmission rate of less than 10 cases per 100,000, according to APH.

The CDC has created a county-by-county tool that allows you to check transmission rate. You can find it below:

According to the CDC’s tracker, Travis County has a substantial transmission rate. With that, the CDC recommends everyone should wear a mask in a public indoor setting, which matches the guidance for Stage 3 as it sits right now.

“We’re not actually making a shift, we’re making it known that this is part of what is driving the decisions that are made with regards to staging,” Walkes said.

Community Transmission LevelsLow TransmissionModerate TransmissionSubstantial TransmissionHigh Transmission
Total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days0-9.9910-49.9950-99.99≥100
Percentage of NAATs that are positive during the past 7 days0-4.99%5-7.99%8-9.99%≥10.0%
Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

According to the CDC guidance, which is less strict in this category than APH’s, communities in substantial or high transmission should have masking in public indoor settings regardless of vaccination status. In low and moderate transmission communities, the CDC only recommends it for people who are not fully vaccinated.

APH said their guidance is more strict because we’re heading into the holidays and it is worried about another post-holiday surge.

The announcement comes more than a week after the Austin-Travis County area hit the seven-day rolling average hospital admissions threshold for Stage 2 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.

As of Friday, the seven-day moving average of hospital admissions is 14. According to the Austin-Travis County key indicators for staging dashboard, 122 people are hospitalized in our area with COVID-19 right now, and 53 people are in intensive care units.

Over the past few weeks, case numbers and hospitalizations have gone down as we hit the tail end of a spike caused largely by the delta variant. Still, Walkes says our community transmission rate is too high to move to Stage 2.

“As it continues to come down then we’ll take another look at things,” Walkes said.

The media Q&A also comes after federal officials approved a kid-sized Pfizer vaccine dose to protect against COVID-19. APH will begin giving those pediatric vaccines at its Shots for Tots clinics starting this week and will start giving them at its walk-in clinics starting Monday.

APH announced Friday that their first allocation of pediatric vaccine doses will be roughly 6,000.

“We do not anticipate any vaccine supply being a limiting factor,” said Cassandra DeLeon, APH Chief Administrative Officer for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

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