Due to surge in COVID cases and rapidly climbing hospitalisation, Austin and Travis Counties have officially been shifted to stage 5 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines.

According to Dr Desmar Walkes from Austin-Travis County health authority, this is the fastest COVID surge experienced by Austin since the very beginning of the pandemic last year, which is primarily because of the highly transmissible delta variant. 

“We don’t want you to be the person who has to choose a ventilator over a vaccine,” Walkes said in a statement on Thursday. Those who are not fully vaccinated are asked not to get out of their homes under the Stage 5 guidelines. If they must go out for essential services like doctors visits, they should wear masks. Furthermore, wearing masks is mandatory for fully vaccinated in public. 

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Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines range from Stage 1 to Stage 5, in an increasing order of risk factors. 

Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.

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A statement by Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David’s Healthcare indicated that hospitals are asking patients to “help us and each other” by making sure that full vaccination takes place for everyone. A “surge plan” has been proposed by Local Hospitals, including “all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings”, according to the statement. 

“Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care,” the statement said. “We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic.”