Austin-Travis County moves to Stage 3 guidelines, health officials push vaccinations

Sheryl‌ ‌Lawrence‌ ‌, News Reporter

Austin-Travis County will move back into Stage 3 COVID-19 guidelines after a rise in hospitalizations and four confirmed cases of the delta variant in the area, Austin Public Health officials said at a Thursday morning press conference.

Under Stage 3 guidelines, high-risk and partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals should avoid private gatherings and nonessential travel, dining and shopping. Those who are vaccinated and not at high risk are not recommended to wear a mask except when traveling, but high risk and unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks in public. Austin has not been under Stage 3 guidelines since May 18, when it moved to Stage 2 for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

On May 18, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order stating that public schools and government entities could not require masks at their institutions. UT announced May 19 that it would no longer require masks on campus. The move to Stage 3 still does not allow the city or the University to mandate masks.

There are currently 137 people hospitalized in the Austin-Travis County area, with 47 in intensive care units and 25 on ventilators, according to the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard. Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, said ICU capacity is strained and Austin is seeing an increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases because many children are not able to be vaccinated. Walkes said the city is implementing the new guidelines to ensure the hospital system does not become overwhelmed with more cases.

Walkes said the city is working to understand how the delta variant is spreading in Austin.

Mayor Steve Adler said almost all of the people currently hospitalized have not been vaccinated. Adler said over 60% of the population has been vaccinated, but that is not enough for the community to reach herd immunity.

“The data is very clear, these vaccinations are extremely safe,” Adler said. “The risk of not taking the vaccination is greater than any risk associated with taking the vaccination. We also know that it’s very, very effective, not just against the standard COVID, but also against the delta variant.”

Travis County Judge Andy Brown said there are multiple locations offering vaccinations across the city and emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated to protect the community. 

“We can not pretend to be done with a virus that is not done with us,” Adler said.