Austin is moving into the Stage 4 risk category for COVID-19, meaning businesses should reduce operations to 25% capacity and residents should end all nonessential travel and gatherings, Austin Public Health Officials said at a Thursday press conference.
Mark Escott, interim medical director and health authority for Austin-Travis County, said at the conference that there has been a catastrophic surge in COVID-19 cases across the state and the country in recent weeks, and with current case numbers and positivity rates, Travis County is moving into the Stage 4 risk category.
“If we do not take the steps to change now … we can be in Stage 5 territory in just a few weeks,” Escott said.
The Stage 4 guidelines, adopted once Austin passed the threshold for 30 new hospitalizations Sunday, recommend avoiding all social gatherings, nonessential travel and nonessential dining and shopping, according to the city of Austin website. Businesses will be recommended to reduce their capacity from 50% to 25%, Escott said.
Mayor Steve Adler said the last time Austin reached Stage 4 in August, it almost increased to Stage 5, but public health officials and community members did their parts to flatten the curve and avoid a higher risk category.
“If we show that discipline, we can impact what happens to us,” Adler said.
There are currently 213 people hospitalized and 72 people in the intensive care unit in Austin as of Thursday, according to the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard.
Escott said Austin does not currently have the hospital or ICU beds to handle a catastrophic surge similar to the one currently seen in West Texas.
“A surge like this in Austin will require us to have more than 600 ICU beds and more than 2,400 hospital beds just to care for the people in our jurisdiction,” Escott said. “We don't have that many beds. Two hundred ICU beds is about the maximum that we can manage … because of staffing issues.”
Adler said the city will also increase enforcement efforts to make sure people are complying with Stage 4 guidelines.
“The goal here is to avoid overwhelming our hospitals and our ICUs to enable our health care workers to be safe and to keep us safe,” Adler said.