Austin Public Health has created a chart to help people understand how much risk there is from the coronavirus on a general level and how people should behave based on their personal risk factors. The department says the chart is part of an effort to maintain a balance between safety and economic openness.
The chart offers behavioral guidelines for five stages of risk in the community, ranging from green to red. Under stage 1, the green level, all businesses are open and people at higher risk are advised to avoid only gatherings of more than 25 people. Under stage 5, red, no one should gather outside the household and only essential businesses are open.
Right now, APH says the area is in stage 3, with everyone advised to practice social distancing and wear face coverings, and people at higher risk advised to avoid nonessential travel.
Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority with APH, said at a news conference Thursday it is those practices that have kept rates of new hospitalizations relatively flat.
“If we stop doing those cautious things, if we stop the social distancing and the public masking and the attention to personal hygiene, it will not be flat anymore," he said. "And again, what we all want is to keep it flat so we can keep things open."
He also addressed the pushback from some people about wearing face coverings.
“There’s been concerns that it violates people’s civil liberties. You know, quite frankly, I think that’s ridiculous," he said. "I think it is a small step that individuals can take to protect other people, to protect themselves, and it is really something that is critical that we consider if we really want to keep businesses open.”
“I think we’re all engaged in the same mission: finding the right balance between public health and safety and keeping our economy open and strong,” he continued. “And if we can find that balance, if we can open things up in a safe way and maintain our personal safety, we can keep a lid on this, we can keep flattening the curve and we can stay open.”
Health officials don't know when Austin could get to stage 1, when the virus is still around but not actively spreading in the community. Escott said we won’t get beyond stage 1 until there’s an effective and widely available vaccine.
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