Austin Public Health is moving down to Stage 3 of its COVID-19 guidance, as cases and hospitalizations continue to decline.
“We’ve had a decline in the number of cases, and we are seeing a gradual reduction in the numbers of people in hospital, in ICU and with ventilator use,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes told a joint meeting of Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council members Tuesday. “So we’re on the other side of the delta surge that we’ve been experiencing since the beginning of July.”
The move comes two weeks after APH lowered its COVID risk stage from the highest level down to Stage 4. It’s another sign that the third wave of the virus to hit the Austin area is slowing.
The drop to Stage 3 means vaccinated people are no longer advised to wear masks at outdoor private gatherings or when shopping. Low-risk vaccinated people also don’t need to wear masks when dining, but vaccinated people who are at high risk of severe illness should continue. All vaccinated people should wear masks at indoor gatherings and when traveling.
Partially vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear masks in public, including at indoor and outdoor gatherings, when traveling and when dining and shopping, APH said. People who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID and who are not fully vaccinated should avoid all of these activities unless they are essential.
APH has reported 25 deaths related to the virus in October. September proved to be the deadliest month of the pandemic since vaccines became widespread, with 141 deaths reported in the region.
The Austin area first met the threshold to move down to Stage 3 on Oct. 1, when the seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped below 30. APH officials said they were waiting to see a sustained downward trend before officially making the move to relax their guidance.
Now, on average there are 19 new COVID hospitalizations per day in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties), down from 57 a month ago. There are 218 people hospitalized with the virus in the region, down from a peak of 653 near the end of August.
Still, health officials are urging people to remain vigilant, especially as flu season begins. Many are worried about the possibility of a “twindemic” of COVID-19 and flu that could again overwhelm health care workers, who are already burnt out and short-staffed. Austin Public Health encourages people to get vaccinated against both viruses to help prevent the spread of disease. Both vaccines can be administered at the same time.
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