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'We can protect the economy while protecting our public health' | Austin leaders share risk-based guidelines to stay safe during COVID-19

Austin Public Health created a color-coded chart with 5 stages with recommendations on what people should do to stay safe during COVID-19.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Public Health officials held a press conference Thursday to explain their new risk-based guidelines in the form of a color-coded chart in an effort to help Austin-Travis County residents understand the stages of risk and provide recommendations for safety during COVID-19. 

Stephanie Hayden, Director of Austin Public Health, and Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Medical Director and Health Authority, led the press conference. 

With nail salons, barbershops and retail stores opening back up, people are wondering whether it's still safe to go out. Dr. Escott said the answer depends on that person's risk level.


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“We all want the same goal, no matter if you’re Democrat or Republican,” Dr. Escott said. “We can protect the economy while protecting our public health.”

A group of medical professionals worked to design the first version of the risk-based guidelines. 

“We’ve identified the City of Austin and Travis County is at Stage 3 on this model," Dr. Escott said. “This is not designed to be a policy document. This is for individuals to asses their risk in their community.”

There are five distinct stages of risk highlighted in the risk-based guidelines. Stage 1 is the lowest threat, and Stage 5 is the most serious. 

Credit: Austin Public Health

For lower-risk individuals, defined as those with no substantial underlying health conditions who have a lower risk of complication and death from COVID-19, the recommendations are as follows:
Stage 1: Practice good hygiene, stay home if sick and avoid other people who are sick. APH is working on recommendations for maximum sizes of gatherings. Individuals are advised they are safe to return to work at all businesses.
Stage 2: Includes the recommendations for Stage 1 and adds: Maintain social distancing and wear fabric face coverings in public. Individuals are urged to avoid dining and shopping except with precautions and to avoid gathering in groups of more than 25 people. They are advised they are safe to return to work at essential and reopened businesses.
Stage 3: Includes the recommendations for Stage 2 and also urges individuals to avoid non-essential travel, all social gatherings, and any gatherings of more than 10 people.
Stage 4: Includes the recommendations for Stage 3 and advises individuals they are safe to return to work, and dine and shop, only at “expanded essential businesses”. This category will be defined shortly.
Stage 5: Includes the recommendations for Stage 4 and urges individuals to avoid all gatherings outside of the household and avoid dining and shopping except as essential. In this stage, it is considered safe to return to work at essential businesses only. 

Dr. Escott explained these guidelines vary based on the individual's risk. Since Austin-Travis County is considered to be in the Stage 3 risk category, these are the following recommendations:

  • Practice good hygiene
  • Stay home if sick
  • Avoid other people who are sick
  • Maintain social distancing
  • Wear facial coverings
  • Avoid all social gatherings, and any gatherings of more than 10 people
  • Avoid dining and shopping except with precautions (lower-risk individuals) or except as essential only (higher-risk individuals)
  • Avoid non-essential travel (higher risk individuals)
  • Return to workplaces in essential and reopened businesses only


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Dr. Escott explained that while our cumulative number of hospitalizations has been steadily increasing, the number of hospitalizations by day has been oscillating between seven and 10 for many weeks now. He warns if people stop social distancing, the curve won't remain flat. 

During Thursday's press conference, Dr. Escott also addressed concerns that wearing face masks violates people's "civil liberties."

"Quite frankly, I think that’s ridiculous. I think this is a small step people can take to protect other people, protect themselves," he said. "If we want to protect workers in businesses, this is a small step we should all be able to take to keep us open as long as possible."

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