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Austin-Travis County 'stay home' orders extended until Feb. 16 as cases surge

As health officials warn that the area is approaching Stage 5 of the risk-based COVID-19 guidelines, local leaders extended the orders into the new year.

AUSTIN, Texas — The City of Austin and Travis County have extended the "Stay Home, Work Safe" orders – now titled "Stay Home, Mask and Otherwise Be Safe" – until Feb. 16, 2021.

The orders were extended on Tuesday, Dec. 15, the day they were set to expire. The orders were last extended in August.

The extended orders direct residents to continue practicing social distancing and good hygiene and to continue wearing face coverings. The orders also state that social gatherings with up to 10 people should be avoided or minimized, and gatherings of more than 10 people not living in the same household are prohibited. Read the City's order and the county's order.

The Austin-Travis County Health Authority has also extended the Health Authority Rules through April 15 and included additional updates including new requirements for quarantine (Rule 2.5), requirements for dine-in or indoor food or beverage services (Rule 5.6) and the definitions for "high-risk individuals" and "high-risk settings." Read the complete set of updated rules.

The extension of these orders comes the same day that Travis County reported the highest single-day case count since July 13, with 613 new cases. As of Dec. 15, the county has reported a total of 43,469 cases and 507 deaths since the start of the pandemic. There are currently 297 people hospitalized with the virus in Travis County.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County's top doctor, warned Tuesday that the surge in cases the area is seeing is a result of Thanksgiving gatherings and there are concerns we will see another major spike following Christmas and New Year's. Dr. Escott also said that the ongoing surge in cases could overwhelm area hospitals if the trend continues.

“This is bad and we're moving in the wrong direction, and I really don't know how to make the message any more clear – that what we are doing now as a community is not working,” Dr. Escott said. “We thought Thanksgiving was bad. This is going to be a memorable Christmas for folks for the wrong reasons. We are going to see unprecedented levels of cases and deaths in this community between now and the end of January if we don't take action right now.”

If the trends continue on the current path, the Austin area will exceed the average of 50 hospital admissions per day this week and quickly pass the 60 mark within the following week, triggering a move to Stage 5 of its risk-based COVID-19 guidelines. 

Under Stage 5 guidelines, it is suggested that only essential businesses remain open and all people avoid non-essential travel and gatherings outside their own households. Currently, Travis County remains under Stage 4, with it recommended to avoid all social gatherings and all gatherings of more than 10 people, avoid non-essential travel and cut business capacity to 25% to 50%.

If Travis County moves to Stage 5 in the coming weeks, Austin Public Health will also recommend extracurricular activities be put on hold at local school campuses.

WATCH: Austin Public Health says tighter guidelines could be needed

On Tuesday, health care workers at the University of Texas Dell Medical School received the area's first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. However, even with the promise of the vaccine continuing to roll out, Dr. Escott said now is not the time to get complacent. 

"Now's not the time to take risk," he said. "Now's not the time to celebrate. Now's the time to buckle down so that we can protect the rest of this community, so that we can prevent needless deaths from a disease that we now have a vaccine for."

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