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All residents are asked to wear masks in Austin as city reenters Stage 4 level of COVID risk. (Charlie L. Harper III/Austonia)

After a week at the Stage 4 threshold, local health officials have officially made the shift to Stage 4, according to their risk-based guidelines.

At this stage, all residents—including those who are vaccinated—are recommended to wear masks at all times while indoors, and unvaccinated individuals are asked not to gather at all and only to make essential trips.

This is the first time since February of this year Travis County reached Stage 4; local health officials announced the shift to Stage 3 last week. Since July 4, the seven-day moving average for hospitalizations has increased by over 203% from 63 to 202 hospitalizations, according to Austin Public Health data. There were 39 new hospitalizations alone on Thursday.

Earlier this week, University of Texas researchers projected the city could see a 92% drop in hospitalizations if residents comply with Stage 4 recommendations.

Ahead of the official announcement, health officials were asking all residents to mask up as if in Stage 4. Independent businesses, such as Waterloo Records and Book People, have adopted officials' recommendations and asked patrons to wear a mask once more. APH expects with the official shift, others will follow suit. As for bars, they say people should wear masks. APH said its recommendations will not affect large events, such as Austin FC games, from operating.

The recommendation is not legally enforceable due to Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order prohibiting mask mandates in May—which he recently said he wouldn't reverse.

The Delta variant—which is now responsible for most new COVID cases, according to the CDC—has been of particular concern to health officials, as it is more contagious and produces more severe symptoms. There have been four confirmed Delta variant cases in Travis County, but officials say there is likely more that have gone undetected due to testing delays.

The number of COVID patients in area ICUs have increased nearly 242% from 24 people on July 4 to 82 people on Thursday, APH reports. With nearly all of hospitalized patients proven to be unvaccinated, APH is asking residents to get vaccinated to prevent the spread.

The county has yet to reach its goal vaccination rate of 70%—the threshold for herd immunity—and currently sits at 62% of the population over the age of 12 fully vaccinated.

"Each of us has a personal choice to make: Will we do our part to stop disease transmission by getting vaccinated and taking the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others, or will we be part of its continued spread?" Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said Friday.

For info on how to get vaccinated, click here.


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