The Austin Chronicle

Amidst “Catastrophic Surge,” Austin Moves to Stage 4 of COVID-19 Risk-Based Guidelines

By Beth Sullivan, November 19, 2020, 12:40pm, Newsdesk

Austin Public Health announced today that the city and county have moved into Stage 4 of the local COVID-19 Risk-Based Guidelines. Officials urged residents to recommit to avoiding gatherings as we head into the holiday season.

“Thanksgiving is a time where for COVID-19 we are going to be the most vulnerable,” said Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott. “It's effectively Labor Day and Memorial Day and Independence Day all combined into one big event.”

The announcement comes as Austin continues to see significant increases in new cases, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions. Last week Escott warned transitioning to Stage 4 was a real possibility if these trends continued as they have over the past month, and that the benchmarks for entering more restrictive stages would be revised downward. Formerly, the threshold for entering Stage 4 was a seven-day moving average of 40 hospitalizations; the new threshold is now 30 (as of Nov. 19, Austin’s average is 32).

The revision, said Escott, is in an effort to avoid overwhelming Austin’s hospital system, as he again reiterated that local hospital staffing is equipped to handle a surge capacity of 200 ICU beds, even though their space and equipment is sufficient to handle 350 patients in intensive care.

Austin Public Health urges businesses to operate at 25% or 50% capacity to help mitigate the now mostly uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus. If steps are not taken now to again “flatten the curve” of new infections, Escott warned, “We can be in Stage 5 territory in just a few weeks.” Austin Public Health’s contact tracing suggests that most of the infection transmission is happening in social gatherings between people not living together.

In Stage 4, everyone, regardless of risk, should avoid nonessential travel. Higher-risk individuals (those over the age of 65 and those who have chronic medical conditions) are encouraged to avoid nonessential dining and shopping, as well as any gatherings of more than two people. All others should avoid gatherings of more than 10.

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