AUSTIN, Texas - Austin-Travis County health officials have moved the area to Stage 4 of COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.
Just a little more than a week ago, Austin-Travis County had moved to Stage 3.
Officials say they made the move due to an increase in cases and hospitalizations due to the more contagious COVID Delta variant. The spike comes after months of decline. Friday, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said more than 90 percent of ICU patients are unvaccinated.
The last time Austin was in stage 4 of risk-based guidelines was January 2021 when a vaccine was not widely available.
"In less than 20 days the number of COVID patients being cared for in our local ICUs has increased nearly 242 percent," she said.
Walkes says the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations has increased by 203 percent since the 4th of July. Adding, "In just five months we have evidence of four new variants of this virus. In the last weeks' data shows that the delta variant is more severe and deadly than its predecessors."
Dr. Brian Metzger head of infectious disease at St. David’s Healthcare says variants are created "largely due to lower rates of vaccination than we would like to see."
Last year, most hospitalized with COVID-19 were 60 and older. Metzger says that is no longer the case.
"Last week, in fact, about half of the people hospitalized with severe illness from COVID-19 were under the age of 60, with about 12 percent of those patients being under the age of 30." he explained.
With vaccines widely available, Internist Dr. Ghassan Salman says the focus has shifted to a new and dangerous public health battle against misinformation.
"Not taking the vaccine is very similar to your decision of jumping off a plane and deciding that you do not want to open the parachute because you’re worried the parachute is gonna tangle with your feet," he said.
For those fully vaccinated, Stage 4 recommendations call for the use of a mask at outdoor and indoor events, while dining, shopping, and even at private gatherings.
Those who are partially vaccinated or haven’t gotten a shot are encouraged to stay home, refrain from travel, and leave only for something essential like grocery shopping.
The change to Stage 4 will not require a shutdown, and Governor Greg Abbott has already said he will not issue another statewide mask mandate, but several local business owners who spoke to FOX 7 Austin say it may require a familiar pivot and they will most likely be making changes.
Texas has seen nearly 9,000 COVID-19 deaths since February. All but 43 were unvaccinated people.
UT research claims ICUs could quickly fill with COVID-19 spikes
Travis County asking everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear masks