UT researchers detail potential impacts from relaxed COVID-19 policies

While the City of Austin recently laid out new guidelines allowing for in-person events to make a comeback, researchers at UT Austin remain wary of relaxing restrictions too quickly. 

Along with continually updating their own COVID-19 dashboard, researchers released a new study this month. "Potential impacts of statewide relaxation of COVID-19 policies, the B.1.1.7 variant, and vaccination in Austin," looks at different scenarios and possible outcomes over the next few months. 

"What we wanted to do is understand the potential impact the reopening of Texas and removal of the mask mandate could have on those trends," said Spencer Fox, research associate and associate director of the UT Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. 

Fox helped launch UT’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium and has a background in statistical modeling of infectious diseases. Before COVID-19, he was studying viruses like Zika and Ebola.

"It’s that expertise that we’ve gained over two decades that has allowed us to respond so quickly to COVID-19 really," he said. "All of that prior work we found has been able to be used during the COVID-19 pandemic."



In the latest study, researchers acknowledged that case counts in Austin have been trending downward, along with the fact that more people are getting vaccinated. However, they also took into account the new COVID-19 variant, Spring Break, and Texas starting to reopen.

"Looking at kind of the worst-case scenario where all of these factors combine to increase transmissions, we find that Austin does not have enough built-up immunity to prevent a surge in the spring," said Fox.

Fox said they looked at two past periods when Texas started to reopen, May of 2020 and Fall of 2020, and noted increases in transmission both times.

According to the study, in the worst-case scenario, there is a 47% chance of exceeding local ICU capacity by June.

"The goal of that report was really to inform the City of Austin, the mayor, and Dr. Escott in thinking about the response," said Fox. "Austin really isn’t quite there in terms of having enough immunity to prevent a major healthcare-straining surge."

And as people are itching to get back to things that Austin is known for, Fox warned against moving too quickly in that direction.

"It’s important for the community to slowly take their foot off the gas pedal rather than instantly take it off."

Researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT Austin also recently released a dashboard that shows how the pandemic has impacted public health, economy, transportation & mobility, energy and water demand, community needs, and air quality.

To view that report, click here.