Austin-Travis County shifts into Stage 5 coronavirus risk

Photo of APH press conference
Austin Public Health, city and county officials held a press conference Jan. 6 to announce the shift to Stage 5. (Courtesy Austin Public Health)

Austin Public Health, city and county officials held a press conference Jan. 6 to announce the shift to Stage 5. (Courtesy Austin Public Health)

Austin Public Health officials announced Jan. 6 that the public health agency is shifting its risk-based guidelines from Stage 4 to Stage 5 for the Austin-Travis County area.

The change comes as the omicron variant has quickly spread throughout the area, and APH key indicators have shifted into Stage 5 thresholds.

“Now we've been here before. We know what works, and we know what to do. I'm also aware that we are all tired, and we want to be done with this virus,” Mayor Steve Adler said during a Jan. 6 press conference. “So we really need each of you to be even more vigilant to take even more vigilant action to protect our community, our workforce and our economy.”

A seven-day moving average of more than 50 new hospital admissions is considered Stage 5. The Austin-Travis County area has been above that level since Dec. 31. The Travis County positivity rate is also within Stage 5 thresholds, sitting at 29.7%, as of Jan. 5.

The Stage 5 guidance means that the vaccinated population should wear masks during low-risk gatherings with people outside of their household and avoid high-risk activities. According to an APH official, fully vaccinated people includes those who have “completed their primary series (first and second doses) of Moderna and Pfizer, and those who have completed their primary series (first dose) of Johnson & Johnson.”

The partially vaccinated and unvaccinated should avoid travel and gatherings with people outside their household altogether, in addition to opting for takeaway and curbside dining and shopping.

Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said that while the omicron variant does seem to be causing more breakthrough infections for people who are fully vaccinated or boosted, vaccination is still a critical defense against the virus.

“In the case of omicron, however, we are seeing many people who are vaccinated and some who are boosted, particularly those who have medical conditions or are of advanced age and have less immunity built up, in those instances having breakthrough cases and having mild disease,” Walkes said. “Having said that, it is important that we continue to get vaccinated to protect ourselves from getting severe disease to protect us from having to go back into the hospital and to protect those of us who are vulnerable to severe disease and death.”

As hospitalizations have increased, ventilator use has not increased to the same extent. As of Jan. 5, the ventilator use seven-day average in the community was 25—a figure similar to the 24.7 of Dec. 5.

The ICU admission seven-day moving average has increased, reaching 61.7 on Jan. 5. That number is the highest in the community since Oct. 23.

Walkes said it is too early in the surge to draw conclusions about the severity of illness in the current wave.

“It's very early in our surge, and we are still collecting that data to see if indeed we will have less need for those higher-level care resources,” Walkes said.
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.