KXAN (AUSTIN) — For the first time in roughly two months, Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority, says we’re starting to see hospitalizations and ICU admissions come down in our area. We may have finally hit our peak.

“That is an exceptional thing to see at this point but we are still cautiously optimistic,” Walkes said.

That caution largely comes as school districts continue to see clusters of cases.

Dr. Walkes confirmed Tuesday that there was a COVID-19 pediatric death reported over the weekend, the area’s first. That child was vaccinated, according to APH, and had underlying health conditions. They had been on a ventilator for roughly a month.

APH reminds the community that vaccines are still the best protection against the virus.

Since the beginning of July, 108 people under the age of 18 have been admitted into area hospitals with COVID-19, 33 in the ICU.

“Just in the last week in Travis County we had 817 cases with 17,240 close contacts identified,” Walkes said of case numbers in schools. There have been 67 clusters identified in Travis County ISD’s since the beginning of the school year, she reported.

Though the local health authority says case numbers and hospitalizations are starting to come down, she warns that it’s not time to let your guard down.

“We’re still in Stage-5, we have exceeded our staffed ICU bed capacity and we should not stop our efforts as a community to keep our numbers going down,” Walkes said.

There were 886 new COVID-19 cases reported to Austin Public Health Monday.

Also as of Monday, 604 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Austin area, 220 people were in local ICUs and 170 of those people were on ventilators, according to the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard.

APH hospitalizations graph
A slide from Austin Public Health showing current hospitalizations, ICU admissions and ventilator use (Courtesy Austin Public Health)

Of the people admitted into hospitals since August 16, only 88 of those people were fully vaccinated, 24 were partially vaccinated and 360 were unvaccinated. Additionally, 369 people were admitted to hospitals but their vaccination status was unknown either because they couldn’t self-report vaccination status at the time of admission, status couldn’t be confirmed by APH or other reasons.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 955 people in the Austin-Travis County area have died of COVID-19, according to APH. Monday, the Austin Fire Department announced that a 20-year firefighter had died because of the virus. Last week, the Austin Police Department lost two police officers to COVID-19.

As always, Walkes reminded the community that the best protection against serious illness and death from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. There are still 250,000 eligible people in Austin-Travis County that are unvaccinated, according to Dr. Adrienne Sturrup, the interim director for APH.

Even though there is still work to be done, APH says they’ve seen an uptick of people going and getting their first dose recently.

“We are making excellent progress in our vaccine efforts,” Walkes said. “The vaccine uptake has increased.”

Booster shots

APH also reported that as of Saturday, they’ve given 126 booster doses of the vaccine. People who are immunocompromised are eligible now to get that third shot right now.

Starting September 20, APH will start giving third doses of the vaccine to people who are eligible.

“All of our planning is based on guidance from the CDC,” Sturrup said. She also said that they are preparing for pediatric immunizations, when those become available. That’s anticipated to come by no later than the end of the year.

Sturrup said the main focus of operations will still be on people who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

Impacts to communities of color

Communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Of the 955 people who have died of COVID-19 since March 2020, more than half of those people were Hispanic, 12% of those people were Black and 30% white.

People of color are also being vaccinated more slowly. As of the latest numbers from Sturrup, only 54.5% of the Hispanic or Latino population in Austin-Travis County are fully vaccinated. Only 39.3% of the Black population is fully vaccinated.

That’s compared to 68.6% of people who are white being fully vaccinated.

“The thought is from the experts that there is no quick and easy fix, but the the good news is that for our community our efforts are mirroring what we see across the country,” Sturrup said.

To sign up to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and find pop up events this week, go to the Austin Public Health website.