The average number of daily new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the Austin metro area has been in steady decline over the last week. It is now at 44.3, down from a peak of 75.1 in early July, moving closer to the threshold for a lower risk level—Stage 3—and the loosening restrictions associated with it.
"Whether we actually go into that next stage is up to [Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority] Dr. [Mark] Escott," Mayor Steve Adler said on Facebook Live Tuesday evening. "But we should all feel really good about what we've done in terms of changing that trajectory."
The current threshold for Stage 3 is 40 or fewer average daily hospital admissions, but health officials also consider other factors.
"We are currently evaluating the impact of the threshold as well as updated modeling and secondary indicators, to determine the stage of risk for the City of Austin and Travis County," an Austin Public Health spokesperson wrote in an email to Austonia. "When, or if, something changes, we will definitely let you know."
Austin has been in Stage 4, according to the city's risk-based guidelines, since June 15, when the moving average of new hospital admissions tipped past 20. Local health officials attributed the increase, and the surge that followed, to the state's reopening plan and Memorial Day festivities.
Austin Public Health updated its guidelines late last month, raising its thresholds for Stages 2, 3 and 4. Where Stage 4 used to range from a daily average of 20 and 70 new hospital admissions, for example, it now ranges from 40 to 123.
While new confirmed COVID cases, hospital admissions and the positivity rate among those being tested are now in steady decline, other metrics are less promising.
"The ICUs are still stressed," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday. "The personnel are stressed."
Austin's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White and St. David's HealthCare—reported an ICU occupancy rate of 83% on Tuesday, only slightly down from a high of 89% in mid-July.
The local COVID-19 transmission rate also needs to decline further, Adler said, before it is safe to reopen businesses and schools. This will require continued adherence to the state's masking mandate and local social distancing recommendations.
"There will be calls for us to return to where we were in May and June real quickly and have it happen fast, and then we can do this up-and-down and up-and-down again, ultimately putting people's health and lives in danger and really ending up in a disruptive economic cycle," Adler said in the video update. "None of those things we want to do."
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