AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County health leaders moved the area to Stage 5 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines Thursday as the omicron variant spreads rapidly across Central Texas.
Those guidelines set clear expectations for people in the community and recommend wearing a mask in all public situations, regardless of vaccination status. But what about businesses? That was asked in a media Q&A Thursday where health leaders made the Stage 5 announcement.
“We are asking our business community to require or recommend masking as people come into their establishments,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, said. She also recommended staff mask up and that stores require social distancing.
“That for me requires some changes in capacity in our business places and spaces,” Walkes said. She also asked that people who are shopping try to choose curbside or takeout options when possible to limit the number of interactions with staff and other people at businesses.
Waterloo Records is one of the businesses that says they will be reducing capacity as a result of the shift. They will only be allowing 40 customers in their store at a time instead of the 50 that were being allowed in Stage 4, they told KXAN. Masks were already required.
The owner of Waterloo says the store was dealing with staffing shortages over the holidays as a result of some of its employees having breakthrough cases.
“We just had to reallocate the resources of personnel that we had,” said John T. Kunz, president and owner of Waterloo Records. “It was a busy time for us to be down that many folks. I guess that was about 15-18% of our staff was out.”
Other business are posting on social media that the rules will be changing for them too, some are cancelling or postponing even small events.
All of the metrics that largely guide the local risk-based guidelines have been in the threshold for Stage 5 guidelines for days. The last metric to reach that threshold was the 7-day moving average of hospitalizations, which hit the threshold earlier this week.
As of Wednesday, the number of people in area hospitals with COVID-19 is 385 people, though health leaders announced earlier this week that a larger number of people are showing up to the hospital for non-COVID-related illnesses or injuries and testing positive for the virus, which counts towards the data.
There are 69 people in the ICU with COVID-19, that number is generally a more accurate depiction of how serious this spike will be for our hospitals.
As of this week, Austin Public Health announced that roughly one in three tests being done in Travis County were coming back positive for COVID-19.