AUSTIN, Texas - Health officials say the omicron COVID-19 variant is presenting a new challenge to the community. Widespread infection among children has had a domino effect throughout the area from schools to businesses to health care facilities.
Officials say it's more important than ever to have children vaccinated and boosted when eligible and to make sure they wear well-fitting masks when they're around others. Austin Public Health says in the past two weeks, 91% of the children admitted to pediatric hospitals were unvaccinated.
"In the omicron surge we are seeing more pediatric cases than ever before," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority, in a news release. "This spike in pediatric infections and hospitalizations is happening as hospitals operate with an ever-shrinking workforce. We must protect our children and our entire community by wearing masks and getting vaccinated."
The rise in cases has resulted in staffing shortages that extend to industries beyond health care. Parents and caretakers must stay home with sick children and may require additional time off if/when the virus spreads within the home. Officials say the community continues to see a sky-high Community Transmission Rate, currently at 1,896 cases per 100,000 in the past 7 days. At this level, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance suggests schools cancel or hold high-risk sports and extracurricular activities virtually to protect in-person learning.
As of January 21, Austin-Travis County is in Stage 5 and per Health Authority Rules, students, staff, and visitors over the age of two are required to wear a face covering while on school property or school buses during Stages 3, 4, and 5. Austin Public Health works with local school districts to provide additional vaccine opportunities for families.
Everyone 5 and older is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. People 12 and older may get a booster shot five months after their initial doses. Right now, more than 70 percent of people in Austin-Travis County are fully vaccinated. Children 5-11 have been eligible to receive vaccines since November 2021. However, only 26% of them have been fully vaccinated, putting the unvaccinated in this age group at higher risk of infection, severe disease, and hospitalization.
"Austin Public Health continues to work with our local school districts to make pediatric vaccines readily available," said Austin Public Health Director Adrienne Sturrup. "We’re asking the community to answer our call to get vaccinated so we can get a handle on this outbreak."
APH vaccine and testing information
People can find vaccine providers using Vaccines.gov (Vacunas.gov in Spanish) or by texting their zip code to 438829 (822862 in Spanish) to find a nearby clinic. APH clinics offer COVID-19 vaccinations and testing without an appointment, although creating an account online in advance saves time.
COVID-19 vaccinations are free and require neither identification nor insurance. For more information and to schedule an appointment, call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000 or get more info here.
To help reserve our emergency rooms for medical emergencies, people who are asymptomatic or experiencing minor symptoms may inquire about testing options by calling 2-1-1 or 877-541-7905, or by visiting 211texas.org. You're asked not to call 9-1-1 for testing information.
Del Valle ISD cancels classes, closes campuses for Jan. 21
Free COVID-19 vaccine clinics being held Jan. 21-24 around Travis County
New COVID-19 business orders in effect in Austin-Travis County
APH provides updates on omicron surge in Austin/Travis County