Austin Public Health eyes possible shift to Stage 4 guidelines

Screen shot of Desmar Walkes speaking at a press conference
Dr. Desmar Walkes, health authority for Austin-Travis County, said Stage 4 could be in sight. (Courtesy ATXN)

Dr. Desmar Walkes, health authority for Austin-Travis County, said Stage 4 could be in sight. (Courtesy ATXN)

With coronavirus-related hospitalizations tracking downward, Austin Public Health is eyeing a possible shift down to Stage 4 pandemic risk-based guidance.

Austin and Travis County have been in Stage 5, which is triggered in part by the area's seven-day moving average of coronavirus-related hospital admissions moving above 50, since early August. With that metric now at 44, the community is within range of Stage 4, but Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said she wants to see the downward trend persist before making the shift in community health and safety recommendations.

"We are waiting to see a sustained trend of the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations," Walkes said at a Sept. 24 news conference. "What it's going to take to continue in that direction is the continued use of masking to protect our community from spread between individuals ... and then just making sure that those who are unprotected by being vaccinated take the opportunities that are out there and available at so many different providers in our community to get the vaccine."

In particular, Walkes said she wanted to see progress in reducing the number of patients in intensive care units. Over the past week, Austin hospitals have seen some progress in this area, but ICUs are still caring for more coronavirus patients than they have space for. As of Sept. 24, 189 COVID-19 patients are in area ICUs, and 127 are on ventilators. Walkes said some patients who require ICU-level care, including those with health challenges not related to the virus, are being cared for outside ICUs due to ongoing lack of capacity, with some patients in other counties waiting to be transferred into Austin hospitals. Additionally, nurses who do not usually work in ICUs are providing ICU care as staffing shortages persist.

Cassandra DeLeon, APH chief administrative officer for disease prevention and health promotion, said the local community should continue to prioritize protective behaviors such as masking as they prepare to attend events including the Austin City Limits Music Festival over the coming weeks.

"Even though we may go into Stage 4, we still know that there's a lot of work to prevent us from surging back into Stage 5," DeLeon said.
By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.


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