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COVID-19

Austin-Travis County Could Drop Down To Stage 2 COVID-19 Guidelines By Next Week

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Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Mary Hoch administers a COVID-19 test at a drive-thru event in South Austin.

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, Austin and Travis County could move down to stage 2 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines as early as today or next week, according to Austin’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Escott.

“This didn’t happen by luck,” he said during a news conference. “It’s happened because of our community’s commitment to making it happen. A commitment to being vaccinated, a commitment to continue to wear masks in public, to safely distance, to continue to stay home when we’re sick.”

A move from stage 3 to stage 2 would mean more relaxed guidelines for people regardless of whether they're fully vaccinated.

View the chart below:

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There were 105 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region as of Thursday evening — the lowest amount since November.

But variants remain a threat, making getting vaccinated even more urgent, health officials say. Houston, for example, has reported four cases of the variant that’s been circulating in India.

“We are concerned about this new strain circulating in Houston because we know it’s just down the road from us,” APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette said. “The ability for it to be entering into our community is always there.”

Pichette said this highlights the need for people to get vaccinated.

“The best thing you can do as a community member is to make sure you are vaccinated, because that will place you in an advantage from those that are unvaccinated, especially [because] it gives you some level of protection against potential variant strains that might be circulating,” she said.

As demand for vaccines has declined and supply has increased, many providers, including Austin Public Health, have started making it easier for people to get the vaccine. People no longer need to register or schedule an appointment to get a shot from APH; they can just walk up to one of its clinics during operating hours.

APH has also been providing mobile vaccines to homebound individuals and partnering with community organizations to help meet people where they are. Officials are considering offering incentives to get more people vaccinated.

About 44% of residents 16 and up have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Travis County, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Escott said he is confident the community will be able to reach herd immunity against the virus at some point. Herd immunity occurs when enough people in a population have become immune to an infection, reducing the chance that people who lack immunity to it will get infected.

But reaching that statewide, nationally and internationally will be a much bigger challenge, he said, given the disparities that exist around the globe in terms of vaccine access.

“I think eradication is very, very unlikely to happen,” he said. “But I think locally we will be able to achieve herd immunity because of the commitment from our community. My hope is that people will continue to make the choice to be vaccinated and to do that soon.”

Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at mcharpentier@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.

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