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Austin is currently in Stage 3, in which APH recommends everyone where a mask to slow the spread of the virus. (Pexels)

Austin Public Health has updated its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, expressing concern over the fast-spreading COVID-19 omicron variant ahead of the holidays.

Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said on Tuesday morning that APH is following guidance from a COVID-19 Modeling Consortium by the University of Texas. The report, released last Thursday, states that community transmission of omicron could pose record hospitalizations and surpass all previous peaks.

APH has subsequently updated guidelines of Stage 3, from a seven-day moving average of 15-29 to 15-24, and Stage 4 to 25-50.

“We've come together this morning to warn our community of the danger we face heading into the next few weeks," Walkes said. "We are continuing to act as though we're in Stage 2, and if this continues, our ICU beds will fill up and overflow by hundreds by the time the New Year arrives. We are on the brink of Stage 4 and we need to act as such."

Austin-Travis County is currently in Stage 3, for which APH recommends the following:

  • For fully-vaccinated low-risk individuals:
    • Wear masks indoors, especially when meeting with people outside your household and while traveling.
  • For fully-vaccinated high-risk individuals:
    • Wear masks while gathering with people outside your household, dining out, shopping and traveling.
  • For partially vaccinated or unvaccinated low-risk individuals:
    • Wear a mask in all situations and get vaccinated.
  • For partially vaccinated or unvaccinated high-risk individuals:
    • Avoid unessential activities and get vaccinated.
The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 92% of reported cases in Texas are from the omicron variant. The variant has shown much faster transmission than delta, though it is still unclear whether the sickness that ensues is milder or not.
As of Monday, Austin reported a low seven-day moving average of 15 cases but a high level of community transmission, at 113.6 cases.
Since hospitals already see an influx of hospitalizations during the winter months, APH officials also recommend getting tested for the virus both before and after travel—quarantining for 10 days if you test positive. Additionally, APH recommends staying home if you think you could be sick.

"Don't let this disease be the Grinch to your Christmas and your holidays," chief administrative officer for disease prevention and health promotion Cassandra DeLeon said. "We know that if we mask and we social distance and we stay home and we're sick, we can protect each other."

Though APH officials expressed concern over having to raise guidelines to Stage 4 before the New Year, Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette said it is possible to make it through the holidays without moving up a stage.

“Whatever you do right now, if you're going to wear your masks and go out and go shopping and make sure you're being cautious, hopefully, we'll never get to Stage 4," Pichette said. "The things that we do now will set the path for our future and I think we need to be mindful of that."


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