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Austin Moves to Stage 3 COVID-19 Risk Level, Updating Guidance Following CDC Changes

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health leaders announced Tuesday the Austin-Travis County region is moving to Stage 3 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines as the omicron surge declines and hospitalization levels decrease.

Dr. Desmar Walkes said the Austin-Travis County region’s 7-day hospitalization levels were 35 on Monday, Feb. 21; as of yesterday, those 7-day average hospitalizations had declined to 20.

She added mitigation strategies, including masking, vaccinations and social distancing, during the omicron surge helped lead to a decline in hospitalizations of patients for COVID-19.

With spring break, South by Southwest Conference & Festivals and other citywide events coming up in the spring, she asked community members to continue masking when in indoor, crowded spaces to prevent a spike in cases as seen previously. She also requested individuals test before and after any travels, visits or populated activities.

“We know that masking stops the spread of COVID-19 and can protect the wearer,” she said.

Currently, SXSW COVID-19 guidelines still reflect Austin-Travis County’s Stage 4 risk-based guidelines. However, their guidelines address measures for Stages 1-3, outlined below:

Stages 1-3: Tested within 72 hours prior to credential pickup; 7-day interval for required re-testingStage 4: Tested within 72 hours prior to credential pickup; 5-day interval for required re-testingStage 5: Tested within 24 hours prior to credential pickup; 3-day interval for required re-testing

Under Stage 3 risk-based guidelines, suggestions are based on vaccination status. For vaccinated individuals, they are recommended to wear a mask while indoors with people from outside their household, but not when gathering outside. This is regardless of low or high risk status.

RELATED: CDC loosens mask guidance — will Austin Public Health, AISD follow?

When traveling, masking is recommended in Stage 3 regardless. For dining and shopping, low risk individuals are not recommended to wear masks indoors, while those classified as high risk are.

For unvaccinated people, masking is recommended for both indoor and outdoor gatherings, travel, dining and shopping in Stage 3. If an unvaccinated person is high risk, they are recommended to avoid dining, shopping and travel unless it’s deemed essential.

Following updated masking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, APH officials said they will be updating their guidance in the coming days and continue to monitor case and hospitalization levels in the region.

Under updated CDC guidance, community coronavirus risk levels are classified by three metrics: new hospitalizations for COVID-19, current hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and new COVID-19 cases.

Counties will then be classified as “low,” “medium” and “high” risk, based on these three metrics. Under low and medium risk designations, the CDC is not recommending universal masking for most people, unless they are high risk. High risk people include those with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions that might make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

With these updates, universal masking in places like schools is only recommended for counties classified as high risk. Currently, Travis County is designated as a low risk community.


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