AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County leaders and Austin Public Health introduced a new coronavirus trigger that could potentially scale back the reopening of the economy.
Ultimately, they said, keeping “new hospitalizations to under 20 admissions a day is key in increasing chances the Austin-Travis County area can continue to reopen as the Governor is allowing while still preventing our area hospitals from experiencing an overwhelming surge in admissions.”
Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said the number is based on what the University of Texas at Austin researchers found.
The threshold utilizes the city Risk-Based Guidelines the officials released a couple of weeks ago.
At Thursday’s news conference, Dr. Escott said the hospitalization threshold numbers the UT researchers calculated will guide the city’s loosening or tightening of restrictions.
“We’ve been working to identify key measures to indicate the need to transition between stages either a more restrictive stage or less restrictive stage. And one of the things we’ve been looking at and talking about for quite some time is this, the new admissions within the five county Austin MSA,” said Escott. “This graphic is showing you the hospitalization rate since the beginning of the pandemic here in Austin, and it shows you that we’ve been oscillating between about eight and 10 hospitalization since the end of March.”
Escott explained that this information and data was given to Dr. Lauren Meyers and her team at the University of Texas. They were asked to look for cut points, which are indications of when the city needs to dial back or dial up the activity that’s happening in the community.
“Again if we exceed the capacity, we’re going to experience excess deaths. This means we run out of hospital beds, ventilators, ICU beds to care for people, not only COVID-19, but for anything else,” explained Escott.
Escott said that the cut points created by Dr. Meyers’ team are made into five stages to gauge levels of admissions into hospitals.
- Stage 1 (Green): Zero admissions on a seven day moving average for hospitalizations.
- Stage 2 (Blue): Less than five admissions on a seven day moving average for hospitalizations.
- Stage 3 (Yellow): Between five and 19 admissions on a seven day moving average for hospitalizations. (This is where the Austin area is now).
- Stage 4 (Orange): Between 20 and 70 admissions on a seven day moving average for hospitalizations.
- Stage 5 (Red): Greater than 70 admissions on a seven day moving average for hospitalizations.
Over the past month portions Texas has seen a phased reopening. Memorial Day weekend was the biggest test residents in the Austin area faced in terms of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Adler discussed the challenges of opening up the economy and what needs to happen to continue to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases.
“So I take a look at what happened in our community this weekend and I tell you that I think most people, most businesses are approaching this cautiously. They’re avoiding large groups, they’re maintaining the social distancing of six feet. They’re wearing face coverings when they’re out. Most people are doing that,” said Adler.
“But we saw some real examples this weekend where that wasn’t happening and I hope that was just a weekend adjustment into this new world we’re in because we can’t sustain that if that’s something that’s happening community wide.”
If Austin moves from Stage 3 to Stage 4 because the daily hospitalization number exceeds 20, the “Workplace Open” column on the risk chart doesn’t include “reopened businesses” any more.
We asked the mayor if that means the city would try to close those businesses again independent of the state’s orders.
“If we’re facing our hospitals being overrun, being overwhelmed, and people are dying needlessly because they’re not getting the care they need, then we’re going to act. I would expect us to act at all levels – state level, county level, and at the city level,” he answered.
During a Wednesday news conference, Austin Public Health talked about the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in mid-to-late June.
“The UT model, other models are all suggesting that beginning mid-June and particularly toward the end of June that we may see a significant increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations,” Escott said, referencing the University of Texas’ COVID-19 Modeling Consortium which has been churning out research papers and models on COVID-19 throughout the pandemic to guide health leaders.
COVID-19 dashboard update
Escott explained that the five level staging, including the hospitalization threshold, is part of the city’s updated dashboard that tracks and displays key COVID-19 indicators for the Austin area.
On the left, the dashboard will show the new hospitalizations for both the seven day average and the raw number for that particular day. On the right, it has the seven day average for new confirmed cases. On the bottom of the dashboard, it shows the doubling time as well as details on hospitalizations.