On August 25, 2020, the City of Austin and Travis County returned to Stage 3 after moving into Stage 4 on June 15.
Austin has been experiencing a downward trend in the COVID-19 positivity rate. The positivity rate is a key factor in determining risk stages and is calculated by dividing the number of positive cases by the number of overall tests being administered. Austin is also now seeing a decrease in the 7-day moving average of hospitalizations and ventilator use is on the decline. Additional key indicators that influence Austin’s movement from one stage to another include the doubling time of new cases and current ICU patients.
Below you can see the chart and the various guidelines for each stage.
Stage 1 represents the lowest threat and Stage 5 represents the most serious. The chart also alters the recommendations based on whether an individual is at higher risk or lower risk. Higher risk individuals are described as those over the age of 65, have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart, lung, and kidney disease, immunocompromised, and those with obesity. The main change from Stage 4 to Stage 3 affects high-risk individuals. In Stage 4, we should avoid two or more people. In Stage 3, we should prevent groups of greater than ten people.
The current recommendations based on Austin’s Stage 3 status for individuals in Austin are as follows:
- Practice good hygiene
- Stay home if sick and avoid other people who are sick
- Maintain social distancing
- Wear masks in public
- Avoid all social gatherings, and any gatherings of more than 10 people
- Lower risk individuals are encouraged to avoid dining and shopping except with precautions, such as wearing a mask
- Higher risk individuals are encouraged to avoid dining and shopping unless it is essential and if doing so, with precautions
- Higher risk individuals should avoid non-essential travel
- It is safe to return to work at essential and re-opened businesses only
Suppose someone has been delaying an elective surgery, physical or immunization because of fear of exposure or taking up a hospital bed. In that case, they are now encouraged to move forward with the procedure since hospitals are doing well and have plenty of capacity.
Despite the loosening of restrictions, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott encouraged people to remain vigilant and that people should “continue to act as if we are still in Stage 4 so that we can be in a better place as school starts.” He went on to say that the goal is to have a positivity rate of less than 5% for every individual race and ethnic group by September 8, the first day of school for Austin ISD students. Austin’s most recent positivity rate was 7.6%. Unfortunately, communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and authorities re-emphasized the need for outreach and advocacy to address the underlying issues of lack of access to healthcare for these communities.