AUSTIN (KXAN) — Alissa Lawson hasn’t spoken to her friend, Amy Miller, in weeks.
“She’s sedated at this point,” said Lawson.
Lawson says Miller, a teacher at Giddens Elementary in Leander ISD, was hospitalized for COVID-19 nearly a month ago. She was vaccinated and was vigilant about wearing her mask, Lawson says, but rheumatoid arthritis compromised her immune system.
“One day, she was swimming with her nieces and nephews, was fine. The next day she didn’t feel well and tested positive for COVID,” said Lawson, her friend of 11 years. “It happened so quickly.”
Miller is in the ICU on an ECMO machine that temporarily replaces the functions of her heart and lungs.
“I would hate to think how this would have affected her if she wasn’t vaccinated — I don’t think she’d be here right now, if she wasn’t vaccinated,” Lawson said.
According to Texas Department of State Health Services data, Austin’s 11-county hospital region only has seven other ICU beds.
That’s part of the reason why local health leaders said Friday they’re not moving the area to a less restrictive tier of COVID-19 guidelines just yet — even though Austin-Travis County has been within the threshold of Stage 4 risk-based guidelines for three days now.
“Our ICUs are still seeing a lot of stress,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority. “We still have people that are in non-traditional ICU places in our hospitals requiring ICU-level care.”
Walkes said they’re waiting to see a sustained downward trend for hospitalizations before moving from Stage 5 to Stage 4.
The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions dropped to 49 early this week from 55 last week. The 7-day moving average of admissions is at 44 as of Friday morning.
Anything below 50 drops the risk level into the Stage 4 threshold, but the health authority points out they also evaluate other data points when deciding to move between stages, including the positivity rate, the doubling time of new cases and the number of patients on a ventilator.
“Right after the ECM, I got a text… that’s she’s in and out of sedation, and wanted to say love you,” recalled Lawson.
Like APH, she’s urging folks to keep COVID-19 safety a priority.
“I think that some people are starting to let their guards down, thinking, you know, COVID’s kind of over, and it’s definitely not,” Lawson said.
Vaccination benchmark reached
Travis County has now surpassed 70% of the eligible population fully vaccinated.
Cassandra DeLeon, the chief administrative officer for disease prevention and health promotion for APH, said from the beginning of June to now, the highest rates of vaccine uptake have been in Hispanic and Black communities, where first dose uptake went up by roughly 10% for each.
Health leaders Friday praised the community for reaching that vaccination benchmark but said there is still more work to do.
Walkes again said our ICUs are over capacity. More people in our hospitals are coming from surrounding counties than was the case earlier in the pandemic, she said Tuesday in a briefing before Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners.
Austin Public Health also addressed recent back and forth over COVID-19 booster shots. They say official guidance has not come from federal and state agencies yet but that they’re ready to roll out a booster shot plan.
“We just don’t have the guidance yet,” Dr. Adrienne Sturrup, the interim director of APH, said.
When asked whether community members who got Moderna vaccines would be able to mix-and-match with a Pfizer booster shot, Sturrup said they don’t know yet.
APH confirmed they opened up two additional vaccination sites in the last two weeks to meet future increased demand.