AUSTIN (KXAN) — The worst could be behind us when it comes to COVID-19 hospitalizations and case numbers in this fourth peak, new University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium projections show. They also show ICU admissions will peak in the next couple weeks.

According to a new report from the consortium, which looks specifically at the Austin-Round Rock area:

  • We likely saw our peak COVID-19 case numbers on Jan. 9
  • Our peak in hospital admissions is projected to be Jan. 25, which has now passed
  • ICU admissions will peak between Feb. 3 and 7

That peak in COVID-19 ICU admissions could rival what we’ve seen in previous surges, according to that report. The worst case scenario projection shows ICUs in the Austin-area will hit a rolling 7-day average of 236 people admitted. The best case scenario projection shows we’ll hit 205.

“When we look at ICU census over the course of the pandemic, that’s really been the limiting factor in terms of staffing for hospitals. Luckily with the omicron surge it seems that we’re seeing a lower proportion of people actually need ICUs,” Dr. Spencer Fox, associate director of the modeling consortium said. “Our projections suggest that we could reach our previous peak of ICU census but it’s uncertain whether we’ll actually do that.”

During the height of the delta surge, there were 237 COVID-19 ICU admissions. The difference this time? Health leaders point to staffing.

In a COVID-19 briefing Friday, local health leaders said hospital systems are already stretched thin. During the omicron surge, more hospital staff have been out sick with COVID-19 than in previous surges, meaning there are less staffed beds available.

Douglas Havron, the executive director for the Capital Area of Texas Regional Advisory Council, or CATRAC, which largely oversees hospital operations in the area, said there were almost 300 people admitted to the hospital who were waiting in emergency departments for beds on a single day last week. Almost 40 of those were people who needed to be in an ICU.

Note on the data: Health leaders have also said there are a higher number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the hospital with other illnesses and injuries. You can read more about that here.

As of Tuesday’s update, there are 143 people in local ICUs right now with COVID-19, and 61 of those people are on a ventilator. Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said people who are being admitted for COVID-19 related illnesses in local hospitals are largely unvaccinated.

“The protection afforded by vaccine is not present in those individuals and their course of getting better is lengthened,” she said. “That is impacting our systems by having those beds occupied longer. As those numbers increase, you can see how that then becomes a capacity issue and a strain on the system.”

What comes next

The projections also show a decline in case numbers and hospitalizations as quickly as they spiked during the omicron surge.

“There’s really two factors that determine what happens over the next few months and it comes down to our behavior…also, the variant evolution is extremely important,” Fox said. Health leaders are monitoring a new subvariant of the omicron variant called BA.2.

Walkes urged local leaders Tuesday not to let their foot off the gas when it comes to encouraging people to get vaccinated, boosted, wear a mask in public places and continue to do best practices. Fox says the public’s ability to do that will determine how quickly case numbers come down.

For more data on COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and vaccination rates in KXAN’s viewing area, check out this report.