Austin-Travis County could downgrade to Stage 4 COVID-19 guidelines soon — here’s what could hinder that

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — While overall case numbers and hospitalizations are finally creeping down, which could help Austin and Travis County loosen guidelines, health officials are still waiting to see what impact Labor Day weekend had on those metrics.

Schools also remain a concern for health leaders.

As of Tuesday, there are 15 pediatric hospitalizations in Austin-Travis County. According to Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, all of those kids are unvaccinated. There is not a vaccine federally approved for people under the age of 12, but that is expected to be coming by the end of the year.

APH says they’re working closely with schools to monitor outbreaks and case numbers. Most of the reported positive cases from schools are coming from classroom settings, followed by athletics and after school activities, Walkes said.

According to the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard, 537 total people are in area hospitals as of Monday and 205 in the ICU, with most ICU patients on ventilators. If people stopped being admitted to hospitals today with the virus, it would still take several months for local ICUs to be cleared of COVID-19 patients because of how long it takes to treat the illness caused by the delta variant, Walkes explained.

The 7-day rolling average of new admissions has slowly dropped over the past couple of weeks, with an average admission of 57 patients as of Tuesday. However, that is an increase from the day prior, when it was reported at 55 admissions.

The 7-day rolling average of new admissions is used by APH and other health leaders to inform which COVID-19 risk-based guidelines are recommended. Austin-Travis County is currently in Stage 5.

“At the current pace, we are slowly moving down,” Walkes said. “If we continue in that fashion we may be looking at being in Stage 4 in late September, early October.”

But again, Walkes warned that school and Labor Day cases could reverse that trajectory.

According to Tuesday’s data, 1,035 people have died from COVID-19 in the Austin area since the beginning of the pandemic. Walkes said Tuesday that of the more than 1,000 people who have died from COVID-19, 32 of them were fully vaccinated. The youngest of those breakthrough victims was 17 years-old, while the oldest was 98. Seven of those people were in long-term care facilities.

Moving to Stage 4 guidelines would change some behavioral recommendations for unvaccinated people. Under Stage 5, people who are unvaccinated are recommended not to travel under any circumstances. Come Stage 4, that recommendation would be modified to suggest unvaccinated people can travel for essential trips while wearing a mask. It would also change the recommendation for vaccinated people who are high-risk.

COVID-19 risk-based guidelinesCOVID-19 risk-based guidelines for unvaccinated residents

Dr. Walkes said most of those people who had breakthrough cases that resulted in death had underlying health conditions.

The best way to protect against serious illness or death from COVID-19 is to get fully vaccinated. A number of Austin-Travis County residents have opted to get their first dose of the vaccine over the past month.

“We had an increase in August and so we’re asking our community to keep up the good work, if you’re not vaccinated please, please do so,” Dr. Adrienne Sturrup, the interim director of APH, said.

Sturrup said there are roughly 225,000 eligible people in Austin-Travis County that remain unvaccinated.

If you want to find vaccine locations near you, or sign up for an appointment, check out Austin Public Health’s website.

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