Austin returns to Stage 3 guidelines after steady decline in COVID-19 cases, health officials say – Austin American-Statesman

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How many vaccines, COVID-19 cases have there been in Texas?

A year into the pandemic, more than 2.3 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Texas.

Nate Chute, Wochit

Austin Public Health on Tuesday moved the community to Stage 3 of the agency’s risk-based guidelines, allowing many Travis County residents to now safely unmask while shopping and dining indoors. 

Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, announced the positive change during a joint Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners Court meeting.

Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines range from Stage 1 up to Stage 5, with Stage 5 indicating the highest threat level for community spread of the coronavirus. Each stage is partly determined using the rolling weekly average of new daily hospital admissions for COVID-19. 

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On Monday, the county recorded 16 new hospital admissions for COVID-19, which dropped the weekly average to 19 for the first time since mid-July.

Stage 3 territory is when the rolling average stays between 15 and 30, according to Austin Public Health. 

Under Stage 3 guidelines, health leaders say it is now safe enough for anyone fully vaccinated to shop and dine indoors and gather outdoors without wearing a mask if social distancing can occur. Even those who are at high risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19 but are fully vaccinated could safely shop and gather outdoors without a face covering if they can socially distance while doing so. 

For unvaccinated people, Stage 3 would allow them to safely shop, dine, travel and gather with others both indoors and outdoors if masked. Those at high risk and unvaccinated should only gather, travel, shop and dine if essential and while masked. 

More: Austin area’s 7-day average of daily hospital admissions for COVID drops to 19

It was in July when Walkes, pointing to the highly contagious delta variant as the driver of a new summer surge, implored residents regardless of vaccination status to wear masks in public when cases first started increasing in early July. Austin and Travis County moved into Stage 5 of the agency’s risk-based guidelines in early August after the area began to see a steady increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

It was at the start of September when hospitals reported zero remaining intensive care unit beds for the entire 11-county health care region, which serves 2.3 million people.

Walkes at the time said some patients who needed critical care were being treated outside the trauma service area, while others had to be transferred several counties away to find an empty bed and be treated for serious such medical needs as car wreck injuries, heart attacks and strokes, as well as the coronavirus.

More: Austin returns to Stage 4 after steady decline in COVID-19 cases, health officials say

Austin has come a long way since the summer, with Austin Public Health on Monday tracking 218 people in the hospital with COVID-19, an improvement over the pandemic record high of 653 patients set Aug. 25.

As many as 90 people on Monday were in Austin-area ICUs for COVID-19. That number hit a pandemic record high of 237 on Aug. 22. The 65 patients on ventilators remained a significant improvement over the pandemic record high of 174 set on Aug. 29.

More: Austin area’s 7-day average of daily hospital admissions for COVID drops to 19

Travis County vaccination rates also continue to improve. As of Monday, 81.54% of Travis County residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine. About 71.69% of county residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated.