AUSTIN, Texas — Austin-Travis County is officially moving back into Stage 4 of the area's risk-based COVID-19 guidelines, Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes announced Tuesday morning.
The area has been within the threshold for Stage 4 for about a week, but Austin Public Health (APH) officials said on Friday that they were postponing the move back from Stage 5 until they were more certain a decreasing trend in local COVID-19 metrics would continue. On Tuesday, APH said that while the number of COVID-19 patients in area ICUs remains high, hospital admissions and positivity rates are continuing to drop.
"The delta variant showed us how unpredictable and deadly this virus can be, especially for the unvaccinated," Walkes said. "However, even as we continue to see the data trending in a positive direction, we cannot act as if the pandemic is over. Our hospital and ICUs still remain at critical levels, and we need the public to continue to work together to ensure we do not contribute to a new surge."
Dr. Donald Murphey, a member of the Texas Medical Association's COVID-19 Task Force, said we need to remember that while ICUs may not be 100% full, they are still keeping nurses and doctors busy. On top of that, hospitals are still dealing with a nursing shortage.
Between 95% to 97% of people hospitalized are unvaccinated, and Dr. Murphey said that only fuels the frustration level for many frontline workers. Dr. Murphey also warned that just because we are in Stage 4 does not mean we should let our guard down.
"But there (are) still lots of people hospitalized, lots of people in the ICU, lots of people on ventilators. We should be trying to prevent making that worse," he said.
Dr. Murphey said he is concerned there may be additional cases of the virus after ACL.
He said if someone in the high-risk category contracts COVID-19, they should contact their doctor and ask about monoclonal antibody treatment. Dr. Murphey said it is effective but must be taken in the first week and before the patient is hospitalized.
Local officials monitor several key indicators to determine which stage the area should be in, including the 7-day moving average of new hospital admissions, positivity rate and current ICU and ventilator patients.
APH said while the number of new COVID-19 cases has decreased, patients suffering from the delta variant experience longer hospital and ICU stays. APH highlighted the following key data points on Tuesday:
- The positivity rate, or the weekly number of people who test positive out of the total number of people tested, has dropped 44% from 14.8% to 8.3% from the peak in early August.
- The 7-day moving average for hospitalizations has decreased almost 33%, peaking at 641.9 on Aug. 27 down to 440 on Sept. 27.
- The number of COVID-19 patients in local ICUs has decreased nearly 21% from 230.6 patients on Aug. 27 to 181.1 on Sept. 27.
In Stage 4, fully vaccinated people should wear a mask when participating in indoor gatherings, traveling, dining or shopping and should wear a mask for outdoor gatherings if they cannot socially distance themselves.
Partially or unvaccinated people should avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping unless essential and should wear a mask when conducting essential activities.
“While vaccination is a personal decision, those decisions have a direct impact on the health of our community and the hospital system we share with surrounding counties, as well as those who are too young to get vaccinated,” Interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said. “We cannot afford to take our foot off the gas if we are going to crush this virus and avoid additional surges."
As of Sept. 27, Travis County has vaccinated 70.67% of eligible residents – over 8% higher than Texas’ overall rate of 61.33%, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
"Our efforts to mask and vaccinate are working to fight the virus," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. "We should be proud of what we’ve done even with the opening of schools, the Labor Day holiday, and the emergence of the variant. Please continue to mask, encourage everyone to get vaccinated, and get your flu shot because our hospitals and our emergency response remain stressed."
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