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Austin moves to Stage 4 of its risk-based COVID guidelines ahead of SXSW, Austin Rodeo

A person wearing a mask places a face covering over the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue at Auditorium Shores.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Jeff Levine places a face covering over the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue at Auditorium Shores in April 2020.

Austin is no longer at its highest level of COVID risk-based guidelines.

Austin Public Health announced Thursday that it's lowering its guidance to Stage 4. That means fully vaccinated people in the five-county area should wear masks when shopping, dining and gathering with people outside their households. People who have not been fully vaccinated — including those who haven't gotten a booster — should continue masking and avoid gatherings, shopping and travel unless it's absolutely necessary.

In a statement, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said the move comes weeks after record-high transmission rates due to the omicron variant. She said that wave of cases has rolled back.

"This surge posed a threat to our hospital systems and our community as a whole," Walkes said. "It’s thanks to the many community members who got vaccinated, continue to wear masks and follow safe practices that our numbers are moving in the right direction."

Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 and new cases have plummeted in recent weeks.

  • Last week, the seven-day moving average for hospital admissions fell below the highest threshold for the first time since the new year. It fell even further Wednesday to 31, the lowest moving average since late last year, when the omicron variant began to spread in Austin.
  • Austin Public Health said Wednesday there were 525 new coronavirus cases in Austin-area. Six weeks ago, the health authority reported 1,299 new cases.
  • Austin Public Health says 73% of Travis County residents over 5 are have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, but the county has lagged behind in third doses; just a third of residents have received a booster dose, APH said this week.

The move to Stage 4 comes ahead of two annual landmark events that draw thousands of attendees from across the state and the globe: the Austin Rodeo and SXSW. Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the decision to move to Stage 4 was done with "cautious optimism."

"We still face a special risk with people about to arrive from all over for South by Southwest and the rodeo," he said in a statement. "Let’s all get boosted and wear masks through these spring festival events. Doing this protects our city."

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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