AUSTIN (KXAN) — The seven-day moving average for hospitalizations in Austin is currently just over 20, according to Sunday’s COVID-19 numbers, which means the Austin-Travis County area has transitioned into Stage 4 on Austin Public Health’s risk-based chart.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Austin Public Health Interim Director Dr. Mark Escott and Assistant to the Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said on Monday that now is the time to re-commit to social distancing measures and wearing masks.
The moving average for hospitalizations in Austin is now at 22.6 (as of Monday evening). On Sunday, officials reported 30 new hospitalizations, and on Monday, they reported 23 new admissions.
At Stage 4, Austin-Travis County recommends lower risk individuals avoid social gatherings with more than 10 people, non-essential travel and avoid shopping and dining for non-essential purposes. High-risk individuals should follow those same guidelines, but limit social gatherings to no more than two people.
Additionally, Adler said the city is extending its Stay-Home Work Safe orders and that current guidelines of wearing masks and keeping six feet from others will continue.
He also said the city is recommending that restaurants and shops operate at minimal capacity (25 percent capacity), even though the state orders allow restaurants to now operate at 75 percent capacity.
The city does not have the authority to mandate capacity rules.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott holds the authority on the state’s plan for addressing COVID-19 precautions.
“Without enforcement capabilities, we are reliant on our community choices. The best we can provide is the best information for our community so that we can make the best choices,” Eckhardt, the former Travis County Judge, said.
Adler is strongly encouraging local businesses to do everything they can to require social distancing and limit indoor capacity, but local leaders cannot make those recommendations mandatory.
Adler said pitting the importance of reopening the economy against the importance of COVID-19 precautions is inaccurate.
“It’s a false choice. We don’t have to choose one or the other,” Dr. Escott said.
142 people remain hospitalized, as of Monday
Dr. Escott said hospital admissions in the Austin-Travis County area increased by 58% last week. However, the APH interim director said currently there are enough available beds for all types of needs at local hospitals.
“Our hospitals are in good shape right now. We’re not talking to you because there’s an impending threat” in the next week or two, Dr. Escott said on Monday. “The concern is three, four, five weeks in the future.”
“Basically, we were able to reopen because we had the capacity to take care of people if they got sick enough to be in the hospital, but we don’t want to get there,” said David Lakey, Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer at the University of Texas System.
Lakey explained, the surge was “expected because of a variety of factors with the opening up of Texas — the Memorial Day weekend, the protests that are taking place — we really shouldn’t be surprised that the numbers are going up.”
“The challenge though now is I think people are relaxing. And we kind of had a little bit of a mixed message that Texas was reopening. This the sense that it was over, and by no means was it over,” added Lakey.
Dr. Escott said everyone needs to be a bit more cautious to slow the spread.
“It can be a short period of time when the situation is OK to when the hospitals are overrun. We did a great job in March, April and May to make the line flat. We need to do that again,” Dr. Escott said.
Hospital occupancy is around 70% right now, according to Dr. Escott. He said Travis County has a medical surge plan if hospital capacity is reached.
Dr. Daniel Roe, Emergency Physician and Medical Director at Vik Complete Care Freestanding Emergency Centers in Westlake and Lakeway, told KXAN while he is seeing more coronavirus patients now than before Texas started reopening the economy, his emergency department is ready for a potential surge.
“I think at this point, we’ve had time to prepare, to get those policies worked through, to staff appropriately, to stock with enough personal protective equipment,” he said.
Some of those steps Complete Care took include reviewing its infectious disease policies and updating procedures.
“We have a policy in place where we interview the patient in their car as they arrive. We promptly go out to the car and bring them in through our secondary entrance into one of two specific coronavirus rooms,” Roe explained. “That way we can preserve the personal protective equipment that is required. We can kind of streamline their care, and it allows us to take good care of the coronavirus patients. But also allows us to kind of sequester and protect the patients that are there for everyday emergencies not related to coronavirus.”
Hospital systems respond
Local hospital systems also said they’ve been preparing for a potential surge.
We know this is a fluid situation, and we are prepared to be flexible and responsive to rapidly evolving conditions in our community and our sites of care. All Ascension Texas hospitals continue their COVID-19 readiness and response plans to ensure our collective capacity to both eliminate the spread of the virus and to immediately manage any possible surge. Each Ascension Seton hospital has a surge plan specific to that facility, and we continue to review and revise those plans based on what is happening within our community, as well as what we’re seeing happening in communities that have already seen large COVID-19 outbreaks.
Our surge plans include the utilization of all available patient care space within our hospitals and in other settings across our healthcare systems. In addition to physical space, the plans also address the equipment that will be needed, as well as the appropriate redeployment of our staff to ensure we are maximizing the use of our greatest resource, which is our people.
At this time, we have adequate equipment and supplies to care for patients at all Ascension Texas hospitals. As part of a national healthcare system, we are taking proactive steps with our distributor and suppliers to ensure access to supplies. We can arrange expedited shipments directly from manufacturers, assessing alternative products and taking advantage of our abilities as a national system to make intra-hospital inventory transfers, when necessary.
St. David’s Healthcare:
All of our hospitals have surge plans in place, and these plans continue to be refined as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. Our patient care protocols have been developed in conjunction with our medical staff by examining what’s happening within our community, as well as drawing on the experiences of communities that have already seen large COVID-19 outbreaks.
Our surge plans consist of multiple stages and include, if needed, the utilization of all available patient care space within our hospitals and in other settings across our healthcare system, such as the use of beds in catheterization lab areas, recovery rooms and pre-operative holding areas, as well as converting medical/surgical units to care for patients who require a higher level of care. In addition to maximizing physical space, the plans also address the equipment that will be needed, as well as the possible redeployment of staff.
We continue to have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for patients, clinicians, caregivers, staff and visitors, as the availability of PPE through our normal supply chain vendors has improved since the beginning of pandemic.
Baylor Scott & White Health:
While we have seen an increase in the number of cases recently, it is important to note that the vast majority of our patients – between 90 and 99% of those we treated in our hospitals since March – have been receiving care unrelated to COVID-19. Those who have received COVID-19-related care in our facilities have been treated in separate areas of the hospital designated for patients with infectious diseases. We are continuously evaluating opportunities to build additional capacity in our hospitals in anticipation of future needs related to the treatment of patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
Since the start of the virus’ impact on our state, Baylor Scott & White has been deploying resources to help identify COVID-19-positive patients before they reach the hospital. Our health system’s process for online screening, clinical consultation and drive-thru specimen collection has allowed us to screen more than 175,000 patients for the disease since March. This process has allowed tens of thousands of Texans with mild symptoms to be evaluated outside of Baylor Scott & White clinics and emergency departments—further ensuring that hospitals are ready for those who need care most during this time.
Prevention is best. We want to remind the public, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends, to wash your hands often, stay home when you can and keep distance from others when outside of your home, and cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
Travis County reported 84 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, bringing the total to 4,545. The number of recoveries jumped to 3,456 for the county.