Austin, Travis County on the brink of returning to Stage 4 as new COVID-19 cases mount

Needle in arm

AUSTIN ( -- Austin and Travis County are on the precipice of moving back into Stage 4 in Austin Public Health's risk-based COVID-19 guidelines, as the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge locally - prompting local health officials to urge the public to take action now.

Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes gave an update Tuesday morning to a joint session of the Travis County Commissioners Court and the Austin City Council.

Of particular concern, Walkes said, are the number of breakthrough cases in patients who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Last week, officials reported 333 breakthrough cases since the beginning of the year. This week, more than 150 more cases have been added, bringing the total to 488.

“25% of those people were asymptomatic,” said Walkes.

Hospitalizations are up to 196 cases, 70 of which are in intensive care and 32 are on ventilators. Those numbers are the highest they've been since March.

Also of concern is the Delta variant of COVID-19, which Walkes said is 60% more transmissible than other strains. Four cases of the Delta variant were reported in Travis County last week.

"We know the Delta variant is here and is running rampant in our community,” Walkes added. "It will continue to cause a surge in cases and hospitalizations if we don’t come together to stop it. Do your part – wear a mask indoors and get vaccinated if you haven’t already."

Tuesday's news in Travis County mirrors the situation in Williamson County, where officials on Monday reported "uncontrolled community spread" of new cases, prompting health officials to raise the county's color-based guidelines to red. The number of new COVID-19 cases in WilCo have doubled in just one week, officials said.

Health officials continue to urge those who are not vaccinated to get their COVID-19 vaccinations as quickly as possible. "Almost all of the cases we’re seeing right now, through case investigations, are unvaccinated," said Walkes.

Despite the threat, local officials don't yet see a return to mask requirements any time soon - at least as long as Gov. Greg Abbott's existing orders remain in effect. "We don’t want to get involved in a legal issue with the Governor, and want to try to avoid that if we can, but if there was a way right now to order that all students have to wear masks in school, we would be doing it," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said.