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Austin-area businesses can return to 75% capacity as COVID-19 hospitalization rate improves

Elective surgeries may also now resume, according to Gov. Greg Abbott's order.

AUSTIN, Texas — COVID-19 patients have made up less than 15% of total hospital capacity in the Austin area (Trauma Service Area O) for seven consecutive days now, meaning restaurants and other businesses can return to operating at 75% capacity and elective surgeries may resume, according to Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order.

Should Austin-area COVID-19 hospitalizations again rise above 15% of capacity for seven consecutive days, businesses will have to operate at 50% capacity, while elective surgeries would be put on hold.

Austin, however, remains under Stage 5 of the City's risk-based guidelines, meaning it is recommended all residents avoid gatherings with anyone outside their own household, avoid non-essential travel and only use contactless options for businesses such as curbside pickup and delivery.

“This is a clear sign that the COVID-19 situation in our region is improving,” said Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott. “However, we cannot let up now. Let us be the leaders on how a community flattens a curve and keeps it flat. With less restrictions, comes more responsibility. We must continue to stay home and reduce risk to save lives.”

"Today, Travis County was notified by the Department of State Health Services that Trauma Service Area O no longer meets the definition of a high hospitalization area and may reopen to the higher levels allowable under GA-32," said Travis County Judge Andy Brown. "While our community has taken measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19, this new development does not mean this deadly virus is no longer a threat. I continue to encourage everyone in Travis County to take extra steps to help mitigate any further spread of COVID-19. Because vaccine supplies remain very limited, we must continue to stay home as much as possible and only travel for essential needs. When we must travel outside our home, always wear a mask and remain physically distant. By everyone doing their part, we can keep our community healthy and safe."

This is the third time in less than a year hospitals were forced to stop most elective surgeries to make room for COVID-19 patients. The first time was during the COVID-19 surge in March, the second during the summer surge and the third was put into place on Jan. 10.

"It's been very difficult for the hospitals," said Dr. Randall Schultz. "They've had a large volume of COVID-19 patients who've had to treat and keep as inpatients. Finally, it looks like we may be seeing some decrease and so, the hospitals, they need the elective surgery as well to pay the bills."

Dr. Schultz is a surgeon with Texas Orthopedics. He also does elective surgeries at a couple of Austin-area hospitals. Dr. Schultz said at least 30% of his patients have had to reschedule because of the COVID-19 surges.

"A lot of people are in a lot of pain," he said. "They make a lot of arrangements, you know, for family to be around and travel to help take care of them afterwards, so some poor patients were canceled two or three times."

While his practice didn't have to close its doors this go-around, Dr. Schultz said Texas Orthopedics is still feeling the effects of the pandemic, as most of his patients are seniors getting hip and knee replacements.

"Many of them would prefer to wait until they're vaccinated as well. But as we've seen, the rollout of that has been a little bit bumpy," said Dr. Schultz.

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