Austin health authorities outline COVID-19 surge risks while eyeing possible shift to Stage 2

Photo of Austin's skyline
Austin-Travis County is nearing Stage 2 territory for pandemic risk. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Austin-Travis County is nearing Stage 2 territory for pandemic risk. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Local public health experts said they are encouraged by Austin's declining COVID-19 numbers but warned progress could be easily upended in the coming months if the community does not remain vigilant against the virus.

Austin-Travis County remains in Stage 3 of Austin Public Health's pandemic risk-based guidelines. However, as of Oct. 26, the Austin-area coronavirus hospitalizations are within the range for APH to consider a shift to Stage 2 with a seven-day moving average of 14.1 daily hospital admissions related to the coronavirus. The capital metropolitan area's hospitalizations first dipped below 15, the tentative threshold for Stage 2, on Oct. 22 and have oscillated in the days since.

APH has historically waited to see a persistent trend in staging data before announcing a shift while factoring in other considerations, including the testing positivity rate, the doubling time of new cases and intensive care unit capacity. Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, said data projections from The University of Texas at Austin's COVID-19 Modeling Consortium points to the need to be cautious about a shift to Stage 2.

"Modeling shows ... that if we continue with the threshold for Stage 2, we may see two surges in the November-December time frame," Walkes said.

The potential for new surges, she said, is mainly as a result of reduced protective behaviors that would be predicted during Stage 2, including masking and social distancing—as has been the case in the United Kingdom and other European countries experiencing surges. Walkes said flu numbers could also be higher this season if the public's vigilance around masking is relaxed.


"It's important that we as a community go out and get our flu shots and do those measures that we do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is wearing a mask, social distancing and staying home when sick," she said.

During Stage 3, according to APH's current risk-based guidelines, fully vaccinated individuals are asked to mask up in most indoor settings, recommendations that would be relaxed in Stage 2. Unvaccinated people are asked to wear masks in most scenarios in both Stage 2 and Stage 3.
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.



MOST RECENT

Council Member Greg Casar speaks at a press conference outside City Hall ahead of a vote to approve an ordinance granting the Austin Office of Civil Rights enforcement power. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Office of Civil Rights granted new powers

An ordinance passed by Austin City Council on Dec. 2 creates additional civil and criminal penalties for discrimination.

The school board will consider whether to call a special election to fill the vacancy or make an appointment. (Zara Flores/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI TEXAS ROUNDUP: Hays CISD to hold special meeting on resignation of board member; Montgomery approves plan for downtown and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas in Texas as of Dec. 2.

The existing gallery location on South Lamar Boulevard will close on Dec. 20. (Courtesy Ao5 Gallery)
Ao5 Gallery relocating from South Austin to The Arboretum this winter

With the relocation to Northwest Austin, Ao5 Gallery will expand its custom framing services, have better parking, be able to display more art and be able to accommodate more guests for live events, according to officials with the gallery.

Rendering of Tesla's Cybertruck
Tesla officially names Texas gigafactory as its new headquarters

A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing shows the Travis County manufacturing plant as Tesla's new home base.

The state and the city of Austin had already exhausted rental assistance funding from the federal program. (Benton Graham/Community Impact Newspaper)
Travis County hits pause on rental assistance applications as federal dollars dry up

With surging demand and the scheduled eviction moratorium expiring in December, Travis County is facing a possible shortfall in Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding.

Tomball City Council approved a development agreement with Lovett Industrial for 240 acres at Hwy. 249, Rocky Road Nov. 29. (Anna Lotz/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI TEXAS ROUNDUP: Tomball City Council approves development of 240 acres at Hwy. 249, Rocky Road; JLB Eatery coming soon to Katy and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas in Texas as of Dec. 1.

Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel of Ground Game Texas, right, and District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes discussed the marijuana and no-knock warrant ballot item at City Hall Dec. 1. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin voters could weigh in on marijuana decriminalization, no-knock warrant ban in 2022

A petition covering both items reached the signature threshold required to call an election, according to voter group Ground Game Texas.

Council members and housing advocates held a press conference on the state of Austin's housing supply and affordability Nov. 30. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Council lays out priorities for addressing Austin's housing affordability, availability crunch

Officials are likely to vote on a series of policy updates aimed at affordability and housing supply over the coming months.

One group focused on safety during the Long-range Planning Committee's Nov. 30 meeting. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD committee hears parents' concerns, discusses understaffing

Parents' concerns about unappealing food, security and other topics took center stage during the Nov. 30 meeting.

The city will negotiate its contracts will all three emergency services in the coming months. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
City kicks off negations with Austin EMS Association

The city will negotiate its contracts will all three emergency services in the coming months

Photo of a crowd celebrating at a ribbon-cutting
Premier Martial Arts opens new West Anderson Lane studio

The mixed martial arts studio is locally owned and has several locations throughout Austin.