Austin health leaders rethink risk-based guidelines for COVID-19

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Although Austin-Travis County has been within the threshold for Phase 3 guidelines for a week, health leaders have not yet officially removed the area from the stricter Phase 4 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.

So what gives?

In a media Q&A Friday, Austin-Travis County health authority Dr. Desmar Walkes, that they are completely re-evaluating their risk-based guidance. She said there will be “more to come when we finalize it,” but didn’t provide a timeline for when the new accompaniment would be released.

When asked about the likelihood of the area officially transitioning to Phase 3 guidelines early next week, Walkes said it was likely, but added it depends on people’s behaviour.

“If the trend continues, it’s very likely it will,” she said.

The Phase 3 guidelines, as they are now, would allow vaccinated people to take off the mask in some situations, such as shopping or outdoor gatherings.

Below is the COVID-19-based risk map as it is now prepared by APH, depending on vaccination status.

Risk-based guidelines on COVID-19 for unvaccinated residents

It’s because hospital admissions and the number of people in local ICUs continue to fall. According to the Austin-Travis County dashboard, the rolling seven-day average of new hospital admissions has fallen to 24. That’s largely the metric health leaders use to guide at-risk stages right now.

It also shows that 302 people are currently in area hospitals with COVID-19 and 135 people are in the ICU. That’s a significant drop from even just a few weeks ago.

“We overcame that bulge,” Janet Pichette, the chief epidemiologist for Austin Public Health, said of recent case numbers.

Health leaders also spoke on Friday about their concerns ahead of the winter months, when other illnesses like the flu are rampant and people tend to flock for the holidays.

Walkes said they are putting together a plan for what she says is called the “flu virus.”

“We’re about to re-evaluate what our new reality is going to be,” Walkes said.

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