Austin Drops to Stage 3 COVID-19 Risk Guidelines

Masks, social distancing still critical, urge health officials

APH vaccine distribution earlier this January (Courtesy of city of Austin)

Today Austin Public Health announced the city and county have dropped back down to Stage 3 of the local health department’s COVID-19 Risk-Based Guidelines.

Under Stage 3, APH recommends residents continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. High-risk individuals should avoid nonessential dining, shopping, and traveling, while everyone – regardless of risk level – should avoid social gatherings greater than 10 people. Additionally, businesses and restaurants are encouraged to operate at 50-75% capacity, which is an increase from the 25-50% capacity recommendation under Stage 4.

This is the first time Austin has entered Stage 3 risk guidelines since last November. Following a second surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the winter holidays, Austin’s seven-day moving average for COVID-19 hospitalization dropped back down to the qualifying threshold for Stage 3 earlier this month and has remained within Stage 3 territory since then. The transition comes as the numbers for other key indicators that determine the current risk staging – the positivity rate, doubling time of new cases, and local hospital and ICU capacity – are “moving in the right direction,” said APH in a March 13 press release.

Amidst Austin’s improving COVID-19 metrics, health officials are continuing to urge the importance of preventative measures like masks and social distancing. “If we continue with these simple measures, we will continue to experience a decline in cases and will avoid a deadly third surge,” said Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott in the press release. Despite Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s statewide rollback on all COVID-19 safety restrictions, Austin is enforcing a local mask mandate for businesses under the Health Authority Emergency Rules that Escott adopted last summer. Earlier this week Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued city and county officials over their efforts to enforce local public health measures. District Judge Lora Livingston quickly denied the Texas Attorney’s General Office’s request for a temporary restraining order; a hearing on the state’s request for injunctive relief is scheduled for March 26, which means Austin’s local mask requirement still stands until the date of the hearing.

Read more in next week’s issue, on stands and online Thursday (March 18).

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