AUSTIN (KXAN) — There are growing concerns about the strain on hospitals and staff as Austin-Travis County enters Stage 5 of its risk-based COVID-19 guidelines. Families with loved ones in the ICU are urging Central Texans to listen to healthcare workers ahead of the holidays.

This isn’t the Christmas week Melody Cass hoped for. Her only son, William, loved and known by many in Austin as Nadine Hughes, a popular entertainer in the LGBTQ community, was admitted to the hospital Sunday night due to COVID-19. Less than 24 hours later, he was taken to the ICU, where he’s now in an induced coma.

“To see him and not be able to touch him and not be able to be there and not talk to him is real hard. It’s got to be the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” said Cass.

Cass says by all accounts her son went out of his way to protect himself and his family from COVID-19. He was diligent about wearing his mask and social distancing.

But his worst fear still became his reality. Cass can now only communicate with her son through doctors at the hospital.

Courtesy: Melody Cass

“I said [to the doctor], ‘is he going to die?’ He said, ‘well it could happen, but we are working hard.’ They have to be truthful, and I need the truth, so it’s difficult,” Cass said.

Currently, the 483 ICU beds are 81% occupied in the three major healthcare systems: Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David’s HealthCare. Of the 2,473 staffed beds, 73% are occupied.

Those numbers are slightly lower than what the metro area experienced during the summer COVID-19 spike. However, the strain on the healthcare system is apparent as Austin-Travis County entered Stage 5 Wednesday.

That’s why local hospitals prepared for months to bring in more workers to fill in the gaps ahead of the winter months.

“All the regional hospitals have asked for additional staffing and have received additional staffing, and so that’s how we are trying to manage that,” explained Dr. Rob Watson, Chief Medical Officer for the Austin/Round Rock Region of Baylor Scott & White Health. “As we go in the winter months, even during a normal year, we see some of our staff come down with the flu. Unfortunately this year it’s not flu, it is COVID. We do have staff who are out, but we’ve been able to backfill that staff with additional staffing we’ve received from other locations in the state and sometimes outside the state.”

Watson says his staff is seeing more COVID-19 cases that stem from smaller gatherings. He expects to see another surge if behaviors don’t change over the holidays.

Mothers like Cass are urging people to take all the precautions they can this holiday season and listen to healthcare workers, so they don’t have to spend Christmas the way that she is.

Courtesy: Melody Cass

“On Christmas morning I’m going to stand outside of the hospital, because they won’t let you in and I’m just going to start singing Christmas carols, because Christmas is his favorite holiday,” Cass said.