Austin-Travis County enters Stage 2 for first time in pandemic

Bridget Spencer

Travis Co. Commissioners Court and Austin City Council special joint session – 5/18/21

Austin Public Health provides an update on guidelines and talks about latest data on the coronavirus and vaccine distribution.

AUSTIN, Texas – Austin Public Health has announced that Austin-Travis County is moving to Stage 2 of APH’s COVID-19 Risk-Based Guidelines for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Austin-Travis County Health Authority also renewed its rules until June 15 but is allowing businesses to adopt policies for fully vaccinated people that more closely align with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An individual is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing the full course of their COVID-19 vaccination regimen; Pfizer and Moderna require two doses and Johnson & Johnson requires one dose.

Fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask and distance when the risk of transmission to those who are not fully vaccinated is significant.  Partially or unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear a mask, distance, and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces in most circumstances.

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The rules also encourage sites to support and provide incentives for workers and patrons to get vaccinated to reduce the risk to those who are unable to receive the vaccine. Nothing in the rules prevent sites from requiring additional precautions. Additionally, the rules state:

Masking remains required in hospitals, health care facilities, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings.For those who are fully vaccinated, masking remains required unless a business owner allows fully vaccinated individuals to remove their masks indoors with less than 500 people or outdoors with less than 2,500 people.Outdoor sites with more than 2,500 people may be exempt if the Health Authority approves the site’s COVID-19 precautions.

Officials say that wearing a mask, even when fully vaccinated, remains the most effective way to reduce spread of many respiratory illnesses.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently authorized for those aged 18 and up. The Pfizer vaccine is currently authorized for those aged 12 and up. Individuals can receive the Moderna vaccine through APH or find additional vaccine providers in your area at Vaccines.gov.

WHAT DOES STAGE 2 MEAN?

Stage 2 recommendations include the following:  

Fully vaccinated individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop without precautions if allowed by the business.Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop with precautions.Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, can travel with precautions.

APH reminds people that the risk-based guidelines do not change local rules or regulations for businesses and are guidelines for individual actions and behaviors based on levels of risk of exposure in the community. People are asked to continue to follow any additional requirements of local businesses, venues, and schools regardless of vaccination status or stage.

While health officials monitor the 7-day moving average of COVID-19 new hospital admissions as the primary key indicator for the Risk-Based Guidelines, additional key indicators, including positivity rate, the doubling time of new cases and, current ICU and ventilator patients, are monitored to determine the current staging. All of these indicators are moving in the right direction.  

“As we start to progress toward the final stages of the pandemic, we are breaking down our Metropolitan Statistical Area hospital data which shows an increasing percentage of admissions from outside this area and that our local admissions are even lower than we thought,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority, in a news release. 

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The CDC has eased mask-wearing guidance for the fully vaccinated, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

“Austin-Travis County residents have made great strides in getting vaccinated and taking precautionary measures to reduce spread, and the data reflects that. I want to thank our residents for their efforts – they are paying off,” Dr. Escott adds.

During a news conference at a joint session of the Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council, Dr. Escott discussed the numbers that lead to the change in the COVID-19 restrictions stage. Highlights include:

For the first time during pandemic, Austin-Travis County below 3% in COVID-19 positivity40% of Austin-Travis County population fully vaccinated13% of Austin-Travis County population partially vaccinated6% have confirmed case of COVID, 13% believed to have had COVID but not officially diagnosedAbout 28% of Austin-Travis County population still vulnerable to COVID, meaning not vaccinated and no history of having COIVD

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Some revisions have also been made to the Risk-Based Guidelines chart, following updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under the new Guidelines, fully vaccinated individuals may:  

Participate in indoor or outdoor private gatherings and dine or shop without precautions in Stages 1-3 if allowed by businessesParticipate in indoor or outdoor private gatherings and dine or shop with precautions in Stages 4-5.Travel with precautions in Stages 1-5.


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About the Author: Bridget Spencer

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