Can I take the mask off yet? Health leaders reassess risk-based guidelines for COVID-19

AUSTIN (KXAN) -Although Austin-Travis County has been within the threshold of the Step 3 guidelines for one week, health officials have not officially moved the area out of the stricter risk-based guidelines for Phase 4 COVID-19 yet.

So what gives?

In a media question and answer Friday, the Austin-Travis County Health Authority said Dr. Desmar Walkes that they are completely reevaluating their risk-based guidance. She said there will be “more when we finish them” but did not provide a timeline for when the new guide would be posted.

When asked about the likelihood of the area officially moving to the Step 3 guidelines early next week, Walkes said it was likely, but added that it depends on people’s behavior.

“If the trend continues, it is very likely that it will happen,” she said.

Step 3 guidelines, as they are set out right now, would allow vaccinated people to drop the mask in some situations like shopping or outdoor gatherings.

Below is a look at the COVID-19 risk-based chart as it is prepared by APH now, depending on vaccination status.

Risk-based guidelines for COVID-19 for unvaccinated residents

It comes as hospital admissions and the number of people at local ICUs continues to decline. According to Austin-Travis County dashboard, the rolling 7-day average for new hospital admissions is down to 24. It is largely the metric health managers who are using to manage risk phases right now.

It also shows that 302 people are in area hospitals right now with COVID-19 and that 135 people are in the ICU. It’s a marked drop from even just a few weeks ago.

“We’ve done that hump,” Janet Pichette, chief epidemiologist at Austin Public Health, said of recent case numbers.

Health leaders also spoke Friday about their concerns heading into the winter months, when other diseases like the flu are prevalent and people tend to congregate for the holidays.

Walkes said they are laying out a plan for what she says is called “flu-vid”.

“We are in a place to reevaluate what will be our new reality,” Walkes said.

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