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Austin moves to 'medium' COVID-19 community level as new omicron subvariant is detected

It's the first time Austin has been at the medium level in five months.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Friday, Austin Public Health (APH) announced that due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, the Community Level has been raised to "medium." At this level, APH advises mask wearing in many circumstances.

In addition, local health leaders have detected the new, highly transmissible omicron subvariant XBB.1.5.

"This new subvariant is making its way into our community right as many people were indoors gathering with others during the cold and over the holidays. When mixed with a flu infection, the combination can cause serious illness for those at-risk such as children and seniors," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. "It’s important that we do what we know works to minimize spread. Got symptoms? Get tested. Stay home if you don't feel well. Wear a mask if you can’t keep your distance to protect those who are at high risk. Most importantly, get up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines."

XBB.1.5 has not been detected in Travis County wastewater samples, APH noted on Jan. 6. However, it has been found in other parts of Texas and throughout the U.S. and could be detected in our area soon.

On Jan. 11, APH reported that XBB.1.5 accounts for 27.6% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., adding that the XBB.1.5 variant contains more mutations capable of evading immunity than any other variant. 

As of Jan. 6, the values of the key metrics used to determine the Community Level are:

  • COVID-19 cases per 100K: 141
  • COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100K: 10.3
  • COVID-19 inpatient bed utilization: 3

The medium threshold his reached once the rate of COVID-related hospitalizations surpass 10. That metric was 5.4 only last week, meaning admissions have nearly double since.

Travis County's Community level has been "low" since August.

"We need to avoid another surge," said APH Director Adrienne Sturrup. "Our hospitals are treating patients with COVID-19, flu and various upper respiratory illnesses right now. If you have already resolved to prioritize your health with a healthier diet, or more physical activity in this new year, add getting vaccinated to your list. If you are already vaccinated, get your booster. Protect yourself and loved ones who are at high risk of severe illness."

For more information on obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine in Travis County, click here.

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