Austin-Travis County hits Stage 5 threshold, ICU availability at critical low

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County reached the threshold that would push the area into Stage 5 risk-based guidelines Friday. The 7-day moving average officially hit 50 new admissions.

Austin Public Health reported in the Austin region, only around 16 ICU beds are available for the roughly 2.3 million people who live within that region. It’s levels we have not seen in our hospitals since the beginning of the pandemic, according to APH.

“We are running out of time and our community must act now,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a release Friday evening. “Our ICU capacity is reaching a critical point where the level of risk to the entire community has significantly increased, and not just to those who are needing treatment for COVID. If we fail to come together as a community now, we jeopardize the lives of loved ones who might need critical care.”

APH is begging residents to do the following:

  • Vaccinated individuals should choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, returning to social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distancing and wearing masks indoors.
  • Partially or unvaccinated individuals should avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping choosing curbside and delivery options instead. Wear a mask when conducting essential activities.

Dr. Jan Patterson, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Texas San Antonio and a member of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 task force, says the fight against COVID-19 in our hospitals has drastically changed because of the delta variant.

“It’s really much more contagious than the common cold, we think it’s much more contagious than flu now,” Dr. Patterson said. She added while you would typically spread the flu to two or three people, the delta variant is being spread at a rate of eight or nine.

She says people who are immunocompromised need to be extra cautious.

Some say they’ll take on the personal responsibility, others may not

Under the governor’s new executive order this week, local officials cannot mandate masks or enforce vaccinations. That mean’s the latest guidelines from APH can only be just that — guidelines or suggestions.

“During the past year, we survived on curbside and like virtual guitar lessons, and that went pretty well and, you know, I think we could survive doing that,” said Keith Lough, co-owner of BLK Vinyl.

He said he and his partners are set to meet this weekend to decide their next move, which will at the very least involve a mask rule.

“Once it went from Stage 3 to 4, we were like, ‘okay, we need to get the signage back in here.’ So, if we’re back in 5, that’s absolutely the least thing we can do,” he said.

Lough says employees have been wearing masks at BLK Vinyl, but they've been giving customers the choice. He says most have been wearing them. That may soon change with new APH guidelines, he says. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)
Lough says employees have been wearing masks at BLK Vinyl, but they’ve been giving customers the choice. He says most have been wearing them. That may soon change with new APH guidelines, he says. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

But not everyone is on board with stricter precautions.

“If I’m being transparent with you, being from Michigan, they’re super strict up there. It was hard for me, it was really challenging,” said Yari Flemming, who is visiting Austin this weekend. “I thought about moving down here during that, just to escape. I felt, I felt trapped. Down here, I feel like it’s a lot more free.”

He and his friend, Jason Carter, say while they don’t want others to get sick, they also believe in making precautions a personal choice.

“You’re able bodied and you’re vaccinated, then go on and have a good time. But if, you know, if you’re not, then maybe just stay at home and just play it smart, you know, based on each person,” said Carter, who is visiting from Fort Worth.

Carter says he fought through COVID-19 and is now vaccinated and feels comfortable going out.

“We were feeling very optimistic up to last week, I would say,” Lough said.

He says it’s disheartening to be facing these COVID-19 numbers again and have income dry up again, too.

Lough had just started resuming in-person guitar lessons with vaccinated clients and playing gigs as a musician.

“I’ve already had gigs cancelled this week in preparation. Like, we knew it was coming. I was supposed to play tonight,” he said.

But he’s glad to play it safe.

“I’m kind of glad to pull back a little bit, wait it out,” Lough said. “Especially now that I know that I could potentially spread to other people.”

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