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.


MOST RECENT

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommended Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine for emergency authorization use Feb. 26. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recommended for emergency authorization use by FDA

This is the third COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved for emergency authorization use after those produced by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and biotechnology company Moderna.

Samsung's proposed $17 billion chip-making plant would dwarf other recent megaprojects that sought tax incentives in the region.
Samsung’s request to pay no property tax on $17 billion plant tests Austin’s incentive policy

Samsung is asking for 100% property tax reimbursement over 25 years, which would mark the most aggressive corporate tax break in Austin history.

A new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could help expand vaccination availability in Travis County, according to local health officials. (Courtesy Pexels)
Johnson & Johnson vaccine could mean additional supply, easier distribution rollout in Travis County

If approved, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be a valuable weapon against the ongoing pandemic, according to local health officials.

Austin ISD students will begin the 2021-22 school year Tuesday, Aug. 17. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Take a look at Austin ISD’s newly approved calendar for the 2021-22 school year

Austin ISD trustees have approved the academic calendar for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

Austin ISD students are scheduled to return to classrooms March 1 for the first time since Winter Storm Uri. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Winter storm damage could prevent 10 Austin ISD campuses from reopening next week

Austin ISD students are scheduled to return to classrooms March 1 for the first time since Winter Storm Uri.

A tree's branches fell on a car in North Austin in the midst of Winter Storm Uri in February. With downed tree limbs and burst water lines causing property damage across Austin, the city has directed additional funds into programs to help some homeowners with emergency home repairs. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Still in crisis mode, Austin City Council initiates recovery following winter storm

With 200 to 400 apartment and condo complexes in Austin still without water, City Council is aiming to direct aid and relieve some of the financial burden felt by residents following the devastating winter storms.

Photo of a knife cutting through brisket
La Barbecue heads to new home on East Cesar Chavez Street

The popular barbecue joint will move to its new location in May.

Jo's Coffee opened a North Austin location in January. (Courtesy Chad Wadsworth)
Jo's Coffee opens in Central Austin; new restaurant coming to Georgetown Square and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic. (Courtesy Qygen, Wikimedia Commons)
Fry's Electronics calls it quits after nearly 36 years in business

As many as 31 stores across nine states will be shuttered as Fry's Electronics shuts down due to market changes and the pandemic.

A lone runner jogs on a snow-covered road in Austin. Transportation projects across the city were briefly paused due to Winter Storm Uri. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
ERCOT: Texas power system was less than 5 minutes from collapse during winter storm

ERCOT's CEO offered details into what led to the massive blackouts that left millions of Texans in the cold last week.

Photo of a snowy residential street
'Bad data is worse than no data': Austin health officials unsure how storm affected coronavirus spread

Weekly testing and hospitalization averages will not be updated by Austin Public Health until Feb. 27.