AUSTIN (KXAN) — At Tuesday’s joint COVID-19 briefing for the Austin City Council and Travis County commissioners, health leaders shared that while Austin’s COVID-19 outlook is far less dire than it was a few weeks ago, positivity and COVID-19 hospitalizations are still high and Austin will likely need to remain in Stage 5 (the highest COVID-19 risk level) through the middle of February.
Dr. Mark Escott, the county’s interim health authority, gave a presentation that shows that while numbers for key staging indicators are going down, the area will still more than likely be in Stage 5 for another month.
Escott shared that the Austin Convention Center continues to serve as a field hospital for local health care facilities that have been overwhelmed with patients during the pandemic. As of yesterday, Escott said that 28 patients were being treated in the alternate care facility at Austin’s convention center and that all of those patients are from the five-county Austin area. So far, seventeen patients have been treated at and discharged from the field hospital, Escott said.
At this point, the alternate care site is not taking in patients from other areas, though Escott said Austin Public Health staff have discussed that as a possibility once the demand on Austin’s hospitals decreases. Escott said the Waco and College Station trauma service regions in particular may be in need of help in the near future.
Since its peak Jan. 9 of 94, the 7-day rolling average of new hospitalizations in the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) in the area has dropped to 81, and positivity rates have also been in decline. The most recently reported positivity rate is 12.8%, down from nearly 20% three weeks ago.
“Well done, Travis County,” Escott said during the briefing. “We are moving in a positive direction.”
Escott also noted that declining COVID-19 hospital admissions in the Austin MSA came exactly ten days after Austin and Travis County leaders announced additional restrictions to dine-in operations on the weekend of New Year’s Eve. Though these orders were challenged by the Texas Attorney General and ultimately blocked by the Texas Supreme Court, Escott still believes they had an impact on slowing the spread of the virus.
“We did not see a second surge from New Year’s Eve that we expected and I believe that’s [due to] the courage of the city & the county to protect this community,” Escott noted.
Also during Tuesday’s briefing, Austin Public Health director Stephanie Hayden-Howard acknowledged technical challenges Austin Public Health has faced with its COVID-19 vaccine portal. Most recently, she explained, APH has learned that people have been sending out Salesforce links for COVID-19 vaccine appointments, leading people who don’t have or qualify for appointments to show up to vaccine sites.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown continued to emphasize his desire for a website where the community can get questions answered about the COVID-19 vaccine and see a dashboard of where (and how many) vaccine doses have been distributed in the area. Brown has mentioned for several weeks that Travis County staff have been working to create a website like this and he believes Phase 1 of that site will be ready by next Monday.