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(Austin Public Health/Twitter)

This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. Saturday to include Austin Public Health's new policy regarding 1C vaccine eligibility.

The Austin-Travis County area has entered Stage 3 of the Austin Public Health risk-based guidelines for the first time since mid-November, the department announced Saturday.

Although APH initially said it would not vaccinate individuals in group 1C, which includes people ages 50 to 64, the department issued an updated statement on Saturday afternoon clarifying its position: "In the coming days, APH will make modifications to our registration platform to include the 1C population and allow us to prioritize based on 1A, 1B, and 1C status."


A staging update

The downgrade arrives after two months of steady decline in new confirmed COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations, two key metrics that peaked in January. The average number of COVID cases confirmed each day has fallen more than 82%, from a peak of 701.1 on Jan. 17 to 126 on Friday. The average number of daily hospital admissions has fallen by nearly 75%, from a peak of 93.7 on Jan. 9 to 23.7 on Friday.

APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard is hopeful that, as more of Austin's most vulnerable residents receive vaccines, these numbers will continue to fall. But she urged Austinites to continue to take precautions, such as masking, social distancing and washing hands. "We hope with spring break and upcoming holidays near, we remember what got us to this stage and what it takes to continue to keep us safe," she said in a statement.

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott added these measures are critical in light of new emerging COVID variants. "If we continue with these simple measures, we will continue to experience a decline in cases and will avoid a deadly third surge," he said in a statement.

A vaccine update

In other COVID news, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced earlier this week that it would expand the vaccine eligibility criteria to include a new group, 1C, of adults ages 50 to 64, starting Monday.

Although APH initially said it would not vaccinate individuals in group 1C, citing limiting vaccine supply, the department has since updated its position, which will be to continue prioritize individuals in the existing eligibility groups as well as those ages 50 to 64.

APH will receive 12,000 first doses of the vaccine next week as part of DSHS' weekly allocation, which is the same amount it has received since being designated a hub provider in January. More than 200,000 people are registered on its waitlist, currently eligible under groups 1A and 1B or because they are educators or childcare personnel, and still waiting for an appointment.

The following groups are currently eligible for a vaccine in Texas:

    • 1A, which includes healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff
    • 1B, which includes adults 65 and older and adults ages 16 and older with a medical condition
    • Educators and childcare personnel

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