Austin, Travis County move to Stage 5 in COVID-19 risk guidelines

AUSTIN ( -- Local health officials have officially moved the area to Stage 5 in Austin and Travis County, as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to mount across the area.

The move comes days after the area crossed a key threshold for moving to Stage 5, when the 7-day moving average of new hospitalizations crossed the 50 mark. Officials have taken the time to modify the risk-based guidelines based on the Delta variant of COVID-19.

"The virus is adapting to survive and so must we," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. "We are seeing an incredibly low number of staffed intensive care unit beds and increased strain on hospital staff due to the Delta virus and its infection of unvaccinated individuals. We have vaccines that are safe and effective in protecting people who are fully vaccinated from severe illness and death. Each of us has the responsibility to keep our community safe. Please get vaccinated and wear a mask.”

Officials raised the risk level to Stage 4 on July 23.

Since July 4, the 7-day moving average of new hospitalizations has increased more than 600%, from 9 on July 4 to 67 on August 4. The 7-day moving average of new cases has increased more than 10 times, jumping from 38 on July 1 to 402 on August 4.

The new guidelines call on everyone to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, unless eating or drinking at a restaurant indoors. Officials are also suggesting residents consider taking advantage of curbside and take-out options for restaurants.

“For those that are fully vaccinated, we need you to wear a mask for others,” Walkes said. “We are asking you to step up again and decrease the number of cases in our community.”

The new guidelines also provide guidance to those who are fully vaccinated but are at high risk. Those groups are encouraged to avoid large gatherings where masks are not required, and limit themselves to essential travel only.

Those who are unvaccinated are urged to stay home as much as possible, only making essential trips outside of their homes.

For people who are unvaccinated, the recommendations include masking and making only essential trips outside of the home.

"Although we’re back in stage 5 again, this time is different," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown in a statement. "Our ICUs are filled with younger and otherwise healthy people. We have vaccines that are effective and keep people out of the ICUs and off ventilators. We can beat this virus together by getting vaccinated and wearing our masks."

Austin Public Health COVID-19 risk guidelines
Austin Public Health COVID-19 risk guidelines for unvaccinated