‘I want to spend time with my family’: Austin-Travis County health leaders issue passionate pandemic plea

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Do you want to go to ACL? How about spend Christmas with your family? Austin-Travis County health leaders, in one of the most passionate weekly media briefings we’ve seen, begged community members Friday to help end the pandemic by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and staying home when you’re sick.

Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, says overall we are seeing a small decline in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations but painted a grim picture of what local ICUs look like. She says patients are waiting in surrounding counties to be transferred into Austin for care, as people already in local hospitals wait in stretchers in emergency rooms or in beds in hallways. Over 20 people were waiting to be transferred for care from different counties earlier this week, she said, only five of which were COVID-19 patients.

Walkes said they’re getting close to having to implement mass critical care guidelines, which would determine who gets treatment and doesn’t.

But already, people who need routine treatment are not getting it in our state because ICUs are so full across Texas. Dr. Adrienne Sturrup, the interim APH director, says a veteran lost his life recently in Houston because he couldn’t find a hospital bed to treat his gallstone pancreatitis.

“We benefit every day from the sacrifices that other people make for us much more costly than getting a vaccine, wearing a mask and just common courtesy of staying home when you’re sick,” Sturrup said.

This, local health leaders said, is a pivotal moment in the pandemic.

Janet Pichette, the chief epidemiologist for APH, said what we do now will have huge impacts on the rest of the year. She talked about Christmas. “I want to spend time with my family that I haven’t seen in quite some time,” she said.

Last week, leaders said we could be moving rapidly toward Stage 4 risk-based guidelines. Walkes said they’re still cautiously optimistic about that. APH is still waiting to see the impacts of school case numbers and also Labor Day weekend.

Friday’s briefing also comes exactly two weeks before the start of Austin City Limits Festival. The COVID-19 protocols for ACL are still relatively unclear, the festival has not made an announcement yet on mask requirements.

Health leaders indicated people who are vaccinated will be allowed to show proof of vaccination instead of being tested. Sturrup said due to the size of ACL, it wouldn’t be efficient to have COVID-19 testing at the event itself. They’re encouraging people to get that figured out in advance.

As to whether or not the city might pull the permit for ACL, Sturrup said it’s too early to say. You could go to bed on a Friday thinking you’re cruising to Stage 4 and then wake up Monday and see something dramatically changed over the weekend she said.

“We are going to provide as much guidance as we can,” she said.

As of the current data posted on the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard Thursday, 537 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19 in our area right now, 229 people are in an ICU.

The death toll in Austin-Travis County is now at 1,042. Just last week, the area hit the grim milestone of surpassing 1,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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