Austin and Travis County move to Stage 4 coronavirus risk

The move came with strong cautions about holiday gatherings from local health experts. (Courtesy city of Austin)
The move came with strong cautions about holiday gatherings from local health experts. (Courtesy city of Austin)

The move came with strong cautions about holiday gatherings from local health experts. (Courtesy city of Austin)

The city of Austin and Travis County have moved into Stage 4 coronavirus risk, local health leaders announced at a Nov. 19 news conference. The city and county had been under Stage 3 restrictions since Aug. 25, but rising case counts and COVID-19 hospital admissions have forced Austin Public Health officials to tighten restrictions.

Stage 4 guidelines ask businesses to voluntarily operate at 25%-50% capacity. Additionally, higher-risk residents, including those who are over age 65 or have underlying health conditions, should avoid gatherings with more than two people from outside the household. Previously, the recommendation was for those individuals to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people from outside the household. For those who are not at a higher risk to contract the virus, the recommendation remains to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

"If we do not take the steps to change now to mitigate the risk, to flatten the curve, we could be in Stage 5 territory in just a few weeks. We must do all we can to prevent that from happening so that we can keep our businesses healthy, keep our schools healthy and keep our community healthy," said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim Health Authority.

Escott had warned that restrictions could heighten for several weeks prior to the shift to Stage 4. With new cases surpassing 300 on Nov. 18; the seven-day moving average of coronavirus hospital admissions at 32; and a testing positivity rate close to 7%, he said, it was time to make the shift.

The daily average of hospital admissions is the key indicator APH uses to determine the community's risk. Until now, a seven-day moving average of 40 hospital admissions had been the trigger for Stage 4. According to Escott, a deeper understanding of the limits of local hospital staffing caused APH to reassess and make 30 admissions the threshold. With Travis County hospitals and ICUs accepting some patients from virus-burdened cities in Texas, such as El Paso, where active cases have surged well past 4,000, hospital capacity becomes an even more critical factor.

"We can see that a surge is happening across Texas," Escott said. "The challenge is that a surge like [El Paso's] in Austin would require us to have more than 600 ICU beds and more than 2400 hospital beds just to care for the people in our jurisdiction. We don't have that many beds."

Also present at the news conference with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown, who said they support APH's move to Stage 4. They encouraged residents to practice caution with Thanksgiving gatherings, which Escott called a "significant risk."

"Our actions are going to tell us how serious we are about whether we want to top the increase in hospitalizations. The bottom line here is we have control over our future," Adler said. "Don't jeopardize years of future holidays for you or for other Austin families by taking unnecessary risks this Thanksgiving."

On Thanksgiving, Escott said people should celebrate only with their own households and should celebrate outside with masks on if they do not heed the household-only advice.

Editor's note: This story was updated to include additional details about Stage 4 recommended guidelines.
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


Local health leaders are urging caution ahead of Thanksgiving. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Ahead of Thanksgiving, Travis County health officials urge caution

Austin Public Health leaders say gatherings with people outside one's household held indoors and without masks pose the greatest risk.

Sold sign
Central Austin continues trend of rising home prices in recent report

The monthly median housing price in October for Central Austin climbed to $625,000.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan for the state Nov. 23 for a vaccine he said could be available as soon as December. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

The vaccine could start being distributed "as early as next month," according to a Nov. 23 news release.

P. Terry’s Burger Stand is expected to open its long-awaited Pflugerville location this January. (Courtesy P. Terry's Burger Stand)
P. Terry's to open in Pflugerville in January and more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

The Bridge at Turtle Creek apartment complex will provide more than 300 affordable units upon completion in 2022. (Rendering courtesy Journeyman Group)
Austin development updates: Apartments could replace two Rainey Street bars, 307 affordable housing units coming to South First Street area

A 569-foot apartment complex could replace Javelina and Craft Bar. Meanwhile, development continues in the St. Elmo area.

Falafel—served in a pita or without one—is TLV's most ordered dish. (Courtesy TLV)
Still open for takeout, TLV is the lone restaurant operating in Fareground food hall

"We will make it through these tough times," said chef Berty Richter.

Trail of Lights (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Holiday markets, strolls, tree lightings and Trail of Lights: 18 events in the Austin area in November and December

The Trail of Lights has gone drive-thru this year, while the Blue Genie Art Bazaar is taking free, ticketed reservations to adhere to social distancing requirements.

Austin voters approved a $7.1 billion public transit expansion Nov. 3 that will add bus and rail in Austin. (Design by Miranda Baker/Community Impact Newspaper)
After historic public transportation vote, here is what's next for Project Connect in Austin

Shovels won't be hitting the ground on the light rail and downtown tunnel for years, but work is getting started now after Austinites approved the $7.1 billion plan Nov. 3.

Festival attendees will have access to augmented reality artworks throughout the galleria. (Courtesy Bee Cave Arts Foundation)
Inaugural interactive light festival coming soon to Bee Cave and more Central Texas updates

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

Campuses in Austin ISD may close to in-person learning the week after Thanksgiving break. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD classes could go virtual for the week following Thanksgiving break

The district will make a final decision about closing schools by Nov. 25.

Schools now have the power to temporarily suspend on-campus instruction if “a significant number of the instructional staff at the campus is impacted due to a confirmed COVID-19 outbreak." (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Education Agency authorizes schools to close doors for 14 days due to coronavirus-related staffing concerns

Campuses can now instate a hybrid or fully remote instruction model for up to 14 days if adequate instructional staffing is not possible due to high numbers of COVID-19 cases among employees.

Kalahari Resorts & Conventions ended its grand opening event with a fireworks display Nov. 14. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Kalahari Resorts & Conventions celebrates grand opening in Round Rock and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular stories from the past week from the Austin area.