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Austin Is Nearing A Move To Stage 4 COVID-19 Guidance. But More Work Is Needed To Get There.

A teacher sanitizes students' hands.
Michael Minasi
Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Huffman sanitizes the hands of students between their outdoor lunch and recess on Aug. 30, 2021, at Maplewood Elementary School in Austin.

Austin health officials are touting several pieces of good news this week. Travis County hit a milestone with its vaccination efforts: 70% of people 12 and older in the county are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. And hospitalizations are on a downward trend, meaning a move down to Stage 4 of Austin Public Health’s COVID-19 risk levels is on the horizon.

“The community has achieved great things,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said during a news conference Friday. “That’s in large part to your saying ‘yes’ to the shot and to the great work of Austin Public Health and all of our partners who have collaborated with us through these many months of trying to get our population vaccinated.”

Despite the progress, APH officials say people still need to continue their efforts to slow the spread of disease. More people need to get vaccinated, and people need to keep wearing masks indoors in public and outside when social distancing isn’t possible, no matter their vaccination status, in order to protect those who are still not eligible for the vaccine.

Though numbers do appear to be on the decline, COVID-19 hospitalizations are still at high levels. Over the last week, an average of 203 people have been in ICUs, down from 217 the week before. About 90% of COVID patients in intensive care units are unvaccinated, according to area hospital officials.

“We still have to be mindful we have people who are receiving ICU-level care outside of the ICU setting, and in some instances they’re being cared for by nurses who are not ICU nurses because we still have continued staffing shortages,” Walkes said.

The seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 hospital admissions has been declining over the last few weeks. As of Thursday, it was at 44. This is one of the metrics used to determine what stage of APH’s risk-based guidelines Austin-Travis County is in. Walkes said the area is still in Stage 5, and “we are waiting for a sustained trend so we can confidently move to Stage 4.”

"We are hopeful that this trend will continue, and we are hopeful that we’ll continue to see not only a move downward to Stage 4, but a continuing downward trend into lower stages," Walkes said. "It’s going to be up to us as a community to continue that trend."

Walkes said another key factor in slowing the spread of COVID-19 is getting more people in surrounding counties with lower vaccination rates vaccinated against COVID-19. In Bastrop County, for example, about 56% of people 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and in Burnet County about 51% of people 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, according to state data.

“The burden in our ICUs and in our hospitals is not just our community members but people from other communities that need our services,” Walkes said.

Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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