It has been more than two months since Austin and Travis County entered Stage 4 of coronavirus risk, the second-most restrictive risk level in the area’s self-defined five-stage guidelines; however, with hospitalizations, new cases and positivity rates falling, health officials announced Aug. 25 that they would ease social restrictions to Stage 3.

As of Aug. 23, the area has reported a seven-day daily average of 21 new virus-related hospitalizations, far below its peak average of 75 hospitalizations per day July 8. The daily average for new coronavirus cases over the last seven days sits at 212, a significant drop from the seven-day daily average peak of 558 on July 3. The local rate of positive results among COVID-19 tests administered, data which lags behind by a couple weeks, is 7.6% as of the week ending Aug. 8. The positivity rate reached as high as 18.1% during the week ending July 4.

The virus has caused 362 deaths in Austin-Travis County, 112 of which have been nursing home and assisted-living residents—about 31%— according to Austin Public Health numbers.

Citing the evidence that “case numbers are dropping significantly,” Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County interim health authority, told Austin City Council on Aug. 25 he “felt confident” in recommending the community ease some social restrictions and move into Stage 3.

“We are moving to Stage 3 because our key indicators are trending in the right direction,” Escott said in a statement. “As much as possible, though, we would like individuals to continue to act as if we are still in Stage 4 so that we can be in a better place as school starts.”

By going to Stage 3, the recommended gathering size for high-risk individuals, such as those with weak immune systems or over 65 years old, increases from two or fewer people to 10 or fewer people. Stage 3 also lifts the recommendations against nonessential travel for non-high-risk individuals.

Escott, who continued to stress personal hygiene, social distancing and wearing face coverings, said he wants to see the community get to a positivity rate below 5% by Sept. 8, when the school district is preparing to welcome students back into the classroom.