As delta variant COVID cases send more people to the hospital, Austin-Travis County reverted back to Stage 4 guidelines Friday.
“This is a call to action,” Dr. Desmar Walkes of the Austin-Travis County Health Authority said at a press conference announcing the change Friday morning. “We’re asking that everybody take heed of where we are.”
The delta variant of COVID, which is about twice as contagious as the COVID strain that spread months ago, has led to more hospitalized COVID patients in the area in recent days and will be the primary COVID variant in the area at some point, said Dr. Elizabeth Douglass, an assistant professor at Dell Medical School.
The move to Stage 4 will not be enforced but means the Health Authority is asking all Travis County residents, vaccinated or not, to wear masks indoors, Walkes said. Health experts are asking those who are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated to avoid gatherings, wear a mask and get vaccinated.
As the delta variant spreads, doctors are seeing younger people affected, said Dr. Brian Metzger, medical director of infectious diseases at St. David’s HealthCare. Last year, local doctors were seeing ICU patients mostly over the age of 60, he said.
“That has changed quite significantly,” Metzger said. “We’re seeing the pandemic really take a toll on younger people.”
Of the nine patients in intensive care Friday at St. David’s Medical Center, seven were under the age of 50 and three were under the age of 40, Metzger said.
Local children who contract the virus are also experiencing more severe cases now, according to Dr. Meena Iyer, Dell Children's Medical Center Chief Medical Officer.
The Austin-Travis County Health Authority stands by American Academy of Pediatric guidance that all children above the age of two wear masks unless they have a medical condition that would prevent mask wearing. Walkes pointed to learning loss in the Austin area.
"So we stand in support of in-person learning," Walkes said. "There may be instances where virtual learning may be necessary but we all stand in support of our children going back to school and we'll be able to achieve that if we go out and get vaccinated and wear a mask."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the correct spelling of Dr. Elizabeth Douglass's name.