AUSTIN (KXAN) — With a record 115 new COVID-19 hospital admissions reported Tuesday, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said things are getting worse.
During a presentation Tuesday with Travis County commissioners, Escott laid out the most recent numbers on COVID-19 in the area, and his description of the situation was to the point.
“The entire state is in surge,” he said. “We need a substantial change in policy to more aggressively mitigate the spread because what we’re doing right now isn’t working.”
Escott said 14 trauma service areas in Texas are, by definition, experiencing surge conditions. That means 15% or more of their hospitalizations have been due to COVID-19 for seven consecutive days. The Austin-Travis County area hasn’t reached the seven consecutive days mark, Escott said, but the area has reached the 15% threshold.
“It represents the majority of the population in Texas,” Escott said. “We’re in a state of emergency.”
Escott interrupted the commissioner’s meeting to give them Tuesday’s update of new hospital admissions after he initially finished his presentation. He said the area will need around 1,000 hospital beds by the end of the month, and now is the time where the area can potentially start to see the impact of Christmas gatherings.
Escott said new projections suggest the area will run out of intensive care unit beds by Jan. 15, but he also said it could happen sooner than that if infections continue at their current rate. There were 493 people hospitalized last week for COVID-19, a 43% increase from the week prior.
Another alarm Escott is sounding is the positivity rates in area counties. Travis County’s positivity rate increased from 12.7% two weeks ago to 15.5% last week, but in surrounding counties it’s either more than or almost 20%.
- Bastrop County, 24.3%
- Caldwell County, 21.9%
- Williamson County, 20.1%
- Hays County, 19.3%
In Travis County’s minority populations, it’s the same story. The Native American community has a 25% positivity rate, followed by Latinx at 24.5%. The rate in the Black community is 19.1%, Escott said.
Escott said the first surge in the summer was one thing, but this time it could be much worse if people don’t heed the warnings and properly mask and social distance.
“What we experienced over the summer is nothing compared to what we will experience over the next two months if we don’t change things very quickly,” he said. “The strategy is not working. The state strategy is not working. The threshold of transitioning retail and restaurants back to 50 percent after you exceed capacity for 7 days in a row of 15% isn’t working. The cases continue to rise.”
Vaccines in Travis County
Stephanie Hayden, the director of Austin Public Health, provided an update on vaccines in the county to commissioners following Escott’s presentation.
Nearly 800,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed in Texas, with 42,000 in Travis County to 59 providers. Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are in the area, and Hayden expects AstraZeneca’s vaccine to be approved for emergency use in the U.S. later this month. It’s already been approved for use in Europe.
Frontline healthcare workers were the first group of people eligible to received the vaccine, and now long-term care residents and staff, any person over the age of 65 plus anyone older than 16 with at least one chronic medical condition are all eligible to receive the vaccine, Hayden said.
However, there are 1.2 million people in Travis County alone, so there’s nowhere near enough doses to go around yet.
“It’s a supply issue right now,” she said.
Austin Public Health is a provider of the vaccine, Hayden said. It has 1,300 doses, and Public Safety Wellness has an additional 1,300 right now. Hayden says APH is working on a registration system for those who are eligible and want the vaccine, and eventually they want to stage large-scale distribution centers when more doses are available.
APH will also focus on getting doses to minority populations in the area, along with places with the highest transmission, people living in poverty and those with poor transportation access, Hayden said.