COVID-19 retreats to Austin, but officials watch BA.2 for surge risk

Austin and Travis County coronavirus cases remain low this week following the Spring Festival season, with the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at local hospitals remaining below 50 for the past two weeks.

On Friday, Austin Public Health reported that 38 people had been hospitalized with the coronavirus. Of these, five were being treated in the intensive care unit and two were on ventilators. Local weekend data will be released on Monday afternoon.

After: When will COVID-19 be over? How Austin doctors and scientists are predicting the future of the pandemic

The region had four times as many people in hospital at the start of last month – 164 on March 1 – and about twice as many, 84, as late as March 14.

People treated in intensive care for COVID-19 hit a pandemic record of 237 last year on Aug. 22, while the number of people on ventilators hit a pandemic record of 174 on Aug. 29. At that time, the community was in the grip of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus.

The community transmission rate, which tracks new cases per 100,000 people over seven days, is another key indicator that health officials are watching to better predict upcoming surges. That number was 60.2 on Friday – down from 73.7 recorded on Monday and 66.6 recorded on Wednesday.

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The COVID test positivity rate was 8.5% on Monday, 8% on Wednesday and 7.8% on Friday.

“As we have seen, outbreaks of COVID-19 come and go based on the adaptability of the virus,” Austin public health officials said in a statement Friday. “Local metrics dipped to low levels last spring before the delta wave hit hard.”

Austin public health leaders continued in the statement that the COVID-19 variant known as BA.2 now accounts for 77% of infections statewide.

And, “although this version causes mild illness in those not considered high risk, it is more transmissible,” the statement said. “We are working on new projections to determine how many people could be hospitalized if we have a flare caused by BA.2.”

On Friday, Texas health officials registered 920 people in hospital with COVID-19 statewide, up from 931 the day before. Since April 1, the state has reported the lowest number of Texans in the hospital for at least two years.

Austin Public Health on Friday recorded a seven-day rolling average of daily new hospitalizations of 6.4. The number, used regularly since spring 2020 to assess the risk of the disease spreading in the community, started the week at 6.7.

After: Austin Public Health removes local COVID steps and aligns guidance with CDC

The Austin-area’s highest seven-day average for new daily hospital admissions during the pandemic was 129, reached earlier this year on Jan. 19, when the omicron variant of the coronavirus fueled an increase in cases and hospitalizations.

The average, until last week, helped Austin Public Health determine its risk-based guidelines. Since the start of the pandemic, residents have become familiar with the agency’s stages, which ranged from stage 1, when the spread of the disease was least likely, to stage 5, when people risked the no more catching the virus.

Residents of Austin and Travis County were excited late last month about the possibility of finally reaching stage 1 for the first time in the history of the pandemic, but the method of tracking stages was then dropped just as hospitalizations approached the Stage 1 threshold.

Instead of moving the area to Stage 1, Austin Public Health adopted the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s case tracking method.

The CDC and Austin Public Health now categorize COVID-19 risk levels into low, medium, and high disease levels. On Friday, Austin and Travis County were in the low category.

Latest recommendations from Austin Public Health

Last month, Austin Public Health lifted all COVID-19 orders due to low transmission rates in the Austin area.

Still, the agency has issued recommendations for practices residents should adopt depending on whether transmission is low, medium or high at the time.

Austin Public Health divides its guidelines into two types of people:

• People up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines (fully vaccinated and boosted, if they are eligible for a first booster, or now a second booster if they are 50 or older).

• People at risk due to their personal health or because they are not up to date with their vaccinations.

Precautions include wearing a properly fitted mask, washing hands and practicing social distancing.

For people up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines:

Low: Taking precautions is optional when collecting, eating and shopping.

Medium: Precautions are optional when gathering, eating and shopping. But wear a mask when social distancing is not possible.

High: Be careful when gathering, dining and shopping.

For those at risk:

Low: Precautions are optional when gathering, eating and shopping.

Medium: Be careful when gathering, dining and shopping.

High: Be careful when gathering, dining and shopping.

Vaccine locations in Austin and Travis County

saturday april 9

George Morales Dove Springs Recreation Center: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 5801 Ainez Drive in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (5 years and older), Moderna (18 years and older)

Del Valle Opportunity Center: Time: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 5301 Ross Road in Del Valle. Vaccine: Pfizer (5 years and older)

Dailey College: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 14000 Westall Street in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (ages 5 and up)

Webb College: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 601 East St. Johns Avenue in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (5 years and older)

El Rancho Grande: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 4604 Teri Road in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (12+ years)

Moreliana Market: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 5405 South Pleasant Valley Road #E in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (12+ years)

Travis County Constable’s Office 4: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 4011 McKinney Falls Parkway in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (5 years and older)

Old Sims Elementary Gym: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1203 Springdale Road in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (5+), Moderna (18+), Johnson & Johnson (18+)

FRONT COVER: Masks at SXSW could be key to seeing record pandemic lows in Austin COVID cases, health officials say

sunday april 10

Travis County Constable’s Office 4: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 4011 McKinney Falls Parkway in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (5 years and older)

monday april 11

African American Youth Harvest Foundation: 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. at 6633 US 290 #303 Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (5 years and older), Moderna (18 years and older)

Mexicana Market – Rundberg: 5:30-8:30 p.m. at 834 East Rundberg Lane in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (12+ years)

La Mexicana Market – Stassney: 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 5717 South I-35 Frontage Rd. C-180 in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (12+ years)

Poco Loco Supermercado – Cameron: From 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 6305 Cameron Road in Austin. Vaccine: Pfizer (12+ years)

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