Austin Public Health to use new COVID-19 risk charts to align with CDC
Austin Public Health is updating its COVID-19 risk guidelines to coincide with new metrics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Previously, APH had been using a five-level scale to showcase COVID-19 risk — Stage 5 being the highest risk level and Stage 1 being the lowest. Each level carried with it a different set of precautions, like when to wear masks and when to avoid travel.
Last month, the CDC began using “community levels” to track COVID-19 spread by county. To align with that, APH is doing away with the Stage 1 through 5 charts and using charts that show three levels: low, medium and high. Austin-Travis County is currently at the low level.
Like with the old risk charts, recommended precautions at each level are dependent on vaccination status and whether you have underlying conditions that put you at a higher risk for developing complications from COVID-19.
At the low level, taking precautions, like wearing masks and social distancing in public, is optional for people who are fully vaccinated and boosted. Precautions are also optional at this level for at-risk individuals.
“At all levels people can wear a mask based on personal preference, informed by their personal level of risk,” APH says. “People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.”
The community levels are determined based on a combination of factors, including COVID-19 hospital admissions, the percentage of inpatient beds COVID-19 patients are using, and new COVID-19 cases.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Austin began dramatically improving in February and March and are still fluctuating around levels not seen since the start of the pandemic. APH moved the Austin area down to Stage 2 of its risk guidance on March 4. And last week, Austin and Travis County lifted their COVID-19 orders.
But numbers appear to be ticking up slightly after spring break, according to Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes.
“Our seven-day moving average increased over the weekend from four on Friday to seven yesterday, so we’re starting to see a slow increase in the numbers of people being admitted to the hospital and the community transmission of COVID-19,” Walkes said Tuesday.
She said the area is seeing an increase in the omicron BA.2 variant, which appears to be more transmissible than the original omicron COVID-19 variant.
“We continue to adapt our response as we enter a new phase of this pandemic,” Walkes said in a press release announcing the new risk levels. “While we enjoy the progress we’ve made, we should remember that this isn’t over yet; the potential for new variants still poses a threat.”
KUT's Trey Shaar contributed to this report.