More restrictions are possible once previously-uncounted COVID-19 patients added to data

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s top doctor said there have been more COVID-19 patients in local hospitals than what the city has reported, and the difference brings our area into a hospital capacity range that could trigger more restrictions on businesses and other activity.

People who tested positive for COVID-19 after they were already in a hospital were not included in data Austin Public Health was reporting in its staging dashboard.

“Previous data sets did not retroactively adjust new hospital admissions for patients who were admitted to the hospital but did not receive a positive COVID-19 test result until after their initial admission date,” said APH in a statement.

The data discrepancies were acknowledged by Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott on Tuesday.

“We’re still doing a little work on this to determine if the numbers are accurate, and we expect to update this on the dashboard,” Escott told Travis County Commissioners.

As of Monday evening, the 7-day moving average for hospitalizations was just above 64. But the uncounted admissions represented 10 admissions a day.

By the end of the day, the 7-day moving average had grown to just under 75.

This number puts the Austin area in a range that could trigger Stage 5 of the city’s risk chart, which is defined by a 7-day average of 70-123 admissions.

However, another important factor depends how fast our area gets to this range. Just because the 7-day average gets over 70, doesn’t mean Stage 5 will be triggered.

If our area does move into Stage 5, local leaders may consider more restrictions.

On Sunday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said one option, considered to be a last resort at this time, would be a 35-day shutdown in the city.

The 35-day shutdown would mean operating on a limited economy — similar to phase one of the city’s response to the pandemic during March and April. However, the authority to implement a shut down would require Gov. Abbott’s approval.

Gov. Greg Abbott responded on Tuesday to letters sent by Adler, and other city mayors, asking for authority to implement shutdown orders. Abbot said, if his orders limiting groups and requiring masks are enforced, another shutdown isn’t needed.

“They are saying we need to reduce the capacity of restaurants, and retail centers, and things like that,” Abbott said on KENS in San Antonio. “No mayor has sent me any information saying there is any type of spread of COVID-19 in those types of establishments or that they’ve taken any effort to close down those types of establishments.”

Our investigative team has highlighted the challenges local health officials have had in getting consistent data from hospitals and reporting that data.

The largest hospitals in our area have declined to provide KXAN with admission and occupied bed and ICU bed numbers, at the hospital level.

Austin Public Health said the hospital patient data discrepancies dated back to June 22.

That’s around the time Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Austin Public Health was juggling multiple sets of data and a new reporting process.

“We changed people and processes that day,” said Adler. “Everybody is working really hard to make sure the decision makers and public have all the data they need.”

Austin Public Health says it is currently looking at a variety of models, including testing a doubling of cases, hospitalizations, and ICU patients, to make a final determination of the stage later this week.

This all comes as Texas experiences a surge in hospitalizations. Adler has said the Austin area is a couple of weeks away from reaching hospital capacity.

At that time, he told KXAN an overflow hospital at the Convention center would be ready, if needed. It could take up to 1500 patients.

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