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Austin hits 'stage 4' COVID-19 risk guidelines as hospitalizations rise

Austin has edged past the threshold determined by health authorities and city officials to be the key indicator of a surge in coronavirus cases and the trigger to pull back on reopening.


On Sunday, Austin Public Health reported 30 new COVID-related hospital admissions, bringing the seven-day rolling average up to 20.6.

The hospitalizations threshold

"We have very carefully calibrated what we believe is the right moment for us as a community to discuss pulling back so that we would not overrun our hospital capacity, and that right moment is the trigger of 20," former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said during a virtual news conference last week.

(city of Austin)


This follows a sharp increase in cases that Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott attributed to the state's ongoing reopening and Memorial Day festivities.

City officials said there is currently plenty of bed space but that such an uptick in new daily hospital admissions could jeopardize hospital capacity.

"At this point, our blinking yellow warning light is turning orange, which means our hospitals seem to be headed to an overwhelming surge in admissions," Austin Mayor Steve Adler wrote in an email update Sunday. "We have some decisions to make and trade-offs to consider as we approach the red zone."

According to APH's five-stage alert system, the Austin metro area is exiting stage 3 and entering stage 4—the point at which experts recommend more restrictions in order to limit community spread and avoid overwhelming hospitals.

The city and the state

Although it remains unclear how the state will respond to this surge, local officials have said they would intervene by recommending residents limit social gatherings, avoid nonessential trips outside the home and limit those trips they do take to essential businesses only.

"If we do reach that threshold, we are going to have to have more serious conversations with the state," Dr. Escott said last week.

Eckhardt added, however, that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has stripped most local governments of their ability to enforce pandemic-related restrictions.

COVID-19 caseloads and hospitalizations are not only increasing in Central Texas but across the state. But Abbott said Friday that there's "no real need to ratchet back the opening of businesses," in part because of the available hospital capacity.

Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, the director of the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas, helped local health officials develop the five-stage alert system.

In an interview last week, she told Austonia: "That's the reason for the staging, so that we can tap on the brakes and not have to slam on the breaks."

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