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Austin Public Health won't shift to Stage 2 COVID guidelines ahead of the holidays. Here's why:

Austin will remain in Stage 3 risk-based guidelines ahead of the holiday season. (Pixabay)

Despite over 10 days of lower hospital admissions, Austin Public Health said in a press conference Friday that they will remain in Stage 3 COVID risk-based guidelines ahead of the holiday season.

Austin has seen a seven-day rolling average of 14 or fewer hospitalizations for a week and a half, which technically reaches the threshold for APH to return to Stage 2 guidelines for the first time since the onset of the third surge in July.

Austin will remain in Stage 3 of its risk-based guidelines. (Austin Public Health)

At Stage 2, vaccinated individuals would only be recommended to wear a mask when traveling, lifting masking recommendations for indoor private gatherings and high-risk individuals while dining. Partially vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals are recommended to wear masks at all gatherings outside of the home while still in Stage 3.

Health officials said they won't downgrade the city's recommendations in fear of repeating mistakes over 2020's holiday season. Austin-Travis County Health Authority Desmar Walkes said that community-based transmission, which counts the number of cases per 100,000 residents in a seven-day period, is a new factor to be considered.

"Doctors like to not just treat disease, but we like to prevent disease," Walkes said. "New information from what we've just experienced with the latest Delta surge, and lessons learned globally has shown that (community-based transmission) is an indicator along with a seven-day moving average of hospitalizations that will help us make decisions to keep our community and our hospital system protected."

Prevention is key for APH after the summer's third surge, which peaked at 23 deaths on a single day on September 8 as the city reached a "grim milestone" of 1,000 COVID deaths.

Walkes said that APH is looking back on missed signs from the onset of the third surge, which was spurred by the highly-contagious Delta variant, and an after-holiday spike that took place last winter.

"If you're that person who's watching the were ready to roll into Stage Two and enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday with limited restrictions," Walkes said. "And I know we're tired. We've been in this for two years, we've lost friends, we've lost family. As the virus continues to struggle to survive, we have to continue to get smarter, make sure that we're using every piece of data that is at our disposal (and) make sure that we're giving the community the best information possible."

Austin last switched stages on Oct. 12 as ICU beds opened up, cases declined and vaccinations increased. For the first time since Sept. 10, Austin saw zero COVID deaths over Halloween weekend after 51 straight days of reported deaths, the longest streak to date.

In the press conference, APH officials reminded residents to consider a booster shot, especially those who received the Johnson & Johnson shot, which only keeps ideal efficacy for around two months. APH sites, Walgreens, CVS locations and Tarrytown Pharmacy are also distributing pediatric vaccine doses after special vaccines were cleared for those aged 5-11.


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