Travis County at risk of entering Stage 5 under COVID-19 guidelines, which could include curfew

Coronavirus hospitalization graph
Travis County's top health authority said the area could reach Stage 5 risk within a week. (Courtesy Austin Public Health)

Travis County's top health authority said the area could reach Stage 5 risk within a week. (Courtesy Austin Public Health)

Travis County could reach Stage 5 coronavirus risk in a matter of days if upward transmission trends continue, Austin-Travis County interim Health Authority Mark Escott said at a Dec. 10 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court.

"If it continues down that more aggressive path, the more pessimistic path that we’re seeing now, we could cross over to Stage 5 territory as soon as next week," Escott said. "We all have a lot of work to do, of vigilance in the masking and the distancing, decreasing unnecessary travel, and ensuring that we’re staying home and doing self checks before you leave every day."

As of Dec. 10, the seven-day moving average for daily coronavirus hospital admissions—a key risk staging indicator—was 40, up from 32 on Dec. 2. Travis County officials could choose to shift to Stage 5 risk once a moving average of 50 daily hospital admissions is reached.

"Forty [daily admissions] is a place we haven't been since July 30. It represents significant concern regarding what the future over the next several weeks is going to bring for us,” Escott said.

If Travis County does cross into Stage 5, Escott said that shift could come with new restrictions for residents and businesses, including a curfew. Additionally, Austin Public Health would issue a strong recommendation that community members limit outings to grocery stores and order takeaway and delivery meals from restaurants. Officials would also encourage schools to put extracurricular activities on hold.

Whether Travis County is in Stage 4 or in Stage 5 during the upcoming holiday travel season, Escott and other health officials have encouraged residents to limit holiday gatherings to members of the same household, noting an upward trend in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases since Thanksgiving.

Other areas in Texas have seen skyrocketing cases in recent weeks, particularly El Paso, where according to Department of State Health Services numbers, there are 37,968 active cases in the county of about 836,000 people. Travis County, by comparison, has 3,091 active cases in the county of more than 1.2 million.

Even with lower transmission rates than other areas of Texas, Travis County has surpassed 500 reported deaths to COVID-19, in what APH officials called a "grim milestone" in a Dec. 11 news release.

"I can’t stress enough the fact that Travis County, the city of Austin, does not have a force field around it that is protecting us," Escott said at the meeting. "Every single citizen making the decision to mask, to distance, to decrease their travel, to only take their mask off in the presence of family members, people who live in their household, is what provides that force field for us. The more holes in that, the more likely it is that we will see substantial surge.”
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.