Austin elevated to Stage 5 restrictions - what does that mean?

As hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases continue to increase, Austin-Travis County has now moved into Stage 5 for the COVID-19 risk assessment.

"In this stage we’re seeing so much community spread going on that anywhere we go, outside our household, we have to consider ourselves at risk," said Interim Public Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott. 

Escott said there was no hesitation or reservation on moving the county during the holiday season. That the reason was in the data. He said the numbers show cause for concern. "If you wait to pull the alarm until the hospitals are full, that surge will continue until the hospitals, and the morgues, are overwhelmed," he said. 



Escott added that there is no indication that we are flattening. 

"The positivity rate is going up," Escott said. "Which is predicting that we will have more cases this week than last week, more hospitalizations this week than we had last week. And, today I’m expecting to see 70 admissions, maybe closer to 80, so what I’m expecting is a rapid increase." 

With the new move, comes new recommendations. Officials are asking everyone to not gather with those outside your home, even if you’re not high risk. "We’ve had 525 deaths," said APH Director Stephanie Hayden. "Please think about your loved ones." 

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Other recommendations include limiting travel to only essential trips like going to the grocery store and restaurants only doing curbside or delivery and ending all dine-in and retail business between 10:30 pm and 5 am. 

"We’re entering a dangerous time, Stage 5, and if our community does its part and follows and follows the recommendations made today, we can stop the spread of COVID-19 and not implement more restrictive measures," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. 

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Much of these recommendations are what the city was asked back in March. While that shutdown left the city looking empty and what Austinites aren’t used to, a sight like that more than likely won’t be the case again. 

Gov. Greg Abbott announced earlier he would not shut down business in Texas. Mayor Steve Adler said now, it's on the community to work to get these numbers down. "Ultimately, we can’t enforce our way into compliance," Adler said. "This is something the community has to do by its collective action."

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However some enforcement may be taken for those who aren't following the recommendations. 

"If we cannot successfully slow the surge, we have to consider all options to keep our community safe, and that could include requiring actions instead of urging them," Brown said. 

Officials stressed that people should approach the holidays with a new and open mindset about how to spend their time, but still follow the guidelines. 

"We are trying to put us on a path to flatten the curve," Hayden said. "It's going to be important for us to think about what is essential." 

Officials say even after Christmas, don’t let your guard down; New Years' is right around the corner. 

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"That may accelerate it even faster than what we saw during thanksgiving, and that puts us in a very dangerous situation very quickly after New Years," Escott said.