Austin Public Health shifts to Stage 4 of COVID-19 risk-based guidelines as omicron variant surges

Photo of person holding a mask
Austin Public Health has shifted its risk-based guidelines from Stage 3 to Stage 4 as cases surge. (Courtesy Pexels)

Austin Public Health has shifted its risk-based guidelines from Stage 3 to Stage 4 as cases surge. (Courtesy Pexels)

Amid a surging community transmission rate and upticks in hospitalizations, Austin Public Health has moved its risk-based guidelines from Stage 3 to Stage 4, according to a Dec. 29 news release.

The new guidance means APH recommends that the vaccinated population wear masks when gathering with people outside of their household, traveling, dining and shopping. The partially vaccinated or unvaccinated should wear masks, avoid gathering with people outside of their household and only travel if essential.

“Our people have continually stepped up for the greater good and been the example of how to navigate the COVID-19 surges with masking, social distancing and vaccinations,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, in the news release. “However, as our vigilance begins to wane, our community is falling behind. We can't afford to be lax in our prevention efforts, and I'm confident that Austin-Travis County will once again lead the way."

The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations reached 36 on Dec. 28—the highest since Sept. 26—according to the APH dashboard. APH recently modified its Stage 4 threshold from a seven-day moving average of 30 hospitalizations to 25.

"COVID-19 hospitalizations and the community transmission rate are surging once again. This means our ICUs are filling and that emergency care could become compromised for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. We must act now to protect both,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in the news release.


The Austin-Travis County community transmission rate is 405. The CTR considers both the number of cases per 100,000 people confirmed in a seven-day period and the percentage of positive tests in a county in that period.

“The omicron variant is moving fast through our community, and we must do what is necessary to help slow community transmission,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said in the news release.

Testing

APH administered 1,344 COVID-19 tests at its Expo Center location Dec. 28. For those looking to get tested, an APH spokesperson said preregistration is key.

“Wait times are drastically reduced if folks have already created an account,” she added.

Travis County ran out of free at-home test kits Dec. 22. The county is still awaiting resupply and does not have a time estimate for when it will receive more, Travis County public information officer Hector Nieto said.

State and national trends

Austin’s regional infusion center ran out of the monoclonal antibody sotrovimab, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced in a Dec. 27 tweet. It added that the lack of supply is due to a national shortage.

“Sotrovimab, is the monoclonal antibody most effective against reducing the risk of severe disease from the COVID-19 omicron variant,” the tweet stated.

Cases nationwide have also continued to surge. According to a New York Times database, the United States broke a record seven-day average in new reported cases Dec. 28, reaching 267,305. The previous high came Jan. 11 at 251,232 new cases.
By Benton Graham

Metro Reporter, Austin

Benton joined Community Impact Newspaper as a metro reporter covering transportation in Central Texas in June 2021. Benton's writing has appeared in Vox, The Austin Chronicle, Austonia and Reporting Texas. Originally from Minneapolis, Benton graduated from William & Mary and eventually moved to Austin in 2018.