Mar 17, 2022 - COVID

COVID cases and hospitalizations drop amid SXSW

Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

COVID cases and hospitalizations in the Austin area reached pre-Omicron lows this week, a promising sign as maskless crowds pack concert venues and indoor event spaces around town.

The big picture: Austin-Travis County public health officials reported 90 new cases — slightly higher than recent days — and 73 total patients hospitalized with COVID Tuesday.

  • Statewide data mirrors that trend, with cases continuing to decline over the last two weeks.
  • Data analyzed by the New York Times shows a drop to 14 new COVID cases per 100,000 Texans.

Flashback: Local officials urged caution as SXSW kicked off last Friday.

  • Austin moved back to Stage 2 of its risk-based guidelines earlier this month, the first time since last summer, recommending that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people continue to take preventative measures. Fully vaccinated residents can participate in indoor and outdoor activities without precautions.

Yes, but: SXSW officials require attendees to show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours.

  • Masks also are required indoors, although attendees with face coverings in the Austin Convention Center and beyond are few and far between.

What they're saying: Spencer Fox, associate director for the University of Texas' COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, said it's not yet clear what impact SXSW will have on COVID trends.

  • "But we feel optimistic that the current decline in cases and hospitalizations will continue as long as the current public health guidelines for the event are followed with vaccination, testing, and masking indoors," Fox said.

The bottom line: Proceed with caution. COVID cases are low, but spread is still possible as thousands of out-of-towners flock to Austin this week.

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