AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County health officials predict the area’s risk level could drop to Stage 2 by next week, and it’s something that “didn’t happen by luck.”
Dr. Mark Escott, Austin’s chief medical officer, said the community still needs to be committed to getting vaccinated and wearing masks for the time being. He said if officials move the area down a peg, they’ll revise the health authority rules and some restrictions will be relaxed, especially for those who are vaccinated.
“With these commitments, we’ll continue to drive down COVID-19 and continue to save lives and from hospitalization associated with this terrible disease,” Escott said.
He said 85% of the new COVID-19 cases in the past week are happening in people 50 or younger.
“We have to work harder to get those younger individuals vaccinated,” he said.
According to data on the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard, the rolling average of new hospitalizations is flirting with Stage 2 risk levels. As of Friday morning, the average is 15.7 and the threshold to move from Stage 3 to Stage 2 is 14. When last calculated May 1, the COVID-19 positivity rate was at 4%.
Janet Pichette, Austin Public Health’s chief epidemiologist, said there’s been a 50% drop in new COVID-19 cases since last week. Her team will keep working on identifying COVID-19 variant cases, re-infections and breakthrough infections that happen after someone gets vaccinated.
Vaccination data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows 60% of Travis County’s population aged 16 years and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and almost 40% are fully vaccinated. More than half of all Texans aged 16 years and older have received at least one shot, and 37% are fully vaccinated.
Walk-ups for vaccinations now allowed
APH Assistant Director Cassandra DeLeon said walk-ups are now allowed at Toney Burger Activity Center in Sunset Valley and Delco Activity Center in northeast Austin. There’s no need to schedule an appointment now because everything can be taken care of on-site, she said.
“We’re trying to offer as little barrier as possible. We want everyone to get the vaccine because there’s so much available,” she said. “Everyone can protect themselves, their families and community.”
DeLeon encouraged people to still call 311 to make sure of times and locations of APH’s sites so that no one wastes time. Any walk-up location will administer vaccines Tuesday through Saturday, and DeLeon stressed there is no cost to get a vaccine and no requirement to bring identification or proof of insurance.
They’re also doing community-based outreach via their neighborhood model. If anyone’s having problems finding a place to get a second dose, DeLeon said people should give 311 a call to verify where second doses are being administered, then get over there when they can.
“If you’re at that 28-day mark, you can walk up to any site and get your vaccine from Austin Public Health,” she said.
Health leaders making moves
Escott is now the chief medical officer for the city, and APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard will transition to become an assistant city manager specializing in health and environment and culture and lifelong learning.
In a letter to city and county leaders, Escott said now is the opportune time to move in the new role for the city as COVID-19 cases improve.
Hayden-Howard announced Escott’s replacement via a memo Friday as Dr. Desmar Walkes. She has been the health authority in neighboring Bastrop County since 2007, and she’ll start as the local health authority May 31.
“This provides better strategic alignment between city and county services, between departments within the city, and really strengthen relationships we’ve built over the past year-and-a-half with other stakeholders in the community … so we can identify opportunities to improve those clinical services.”
Hayden-Howard said the move “takes Austin to the next level,” and will create synergy within the community.
Hayden-Howard’s move comes after spending 20 years working with the city. Adrienne Sturrup will take over effective May 10 as the director, but Hayden-Howard said she’ll keep working closely with the health department.
“The importance of public health has really, really shown,” she said. “I am very excited about where we are as a community, but we still have lessons to learn. We will continue to come together as a community, and we’re stronger together.”