WEEKEND READ: ICU capacity in critical condition as COVID-19 surges in Central Texas


FILE – In this Sept. 15, 2020, file photo, medical workers tend to a patient suffering from COVID-19 in the Nouvel Hospital Civil of Strasbourg, eastern France. Intensive care wards across France are filling up again with COVID-19 patients. Doctors are scrambling to create new ICU beds elsewhere to accommodate the sick, and asking what went wrong. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As new cases of COVID-19 in the Austin-Travis County area continue surging for another week, the outlook at local hospitals isn’t improving.

As of Friday, there are 3,438 active COVID-19 cases in Austin-Travis County. There are currently 510 people hospitalized, 184 patients in the ICU and 102 patients on ventilators, according to the COVID-19 dashboard.

Keep Austin Well

With resident concerns growing, KXAN hosted its very first Keep Austin Well interactive town hall, where health experts and local officials answer viewer questions on area response.

A few questions included: Is it safe for unvaccinated children to go to school? and What do you say to people who say ‘the vaccines just don’t work’?

You can see some highlights below or watch the full town hall here.

Hospital systems in critical condition

Roughly 80% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the Austin metro in the past two weeks were unvaccinated, new numbers from Austin Public Health show.

On Tuesday, APH announced 230 non-vaccinated people were hospitalized between July 19 and August 1, as cases locally and statewide surge. Fully-vaccinated patients comprised only 16.55%, or 47 total patients, while partially vaccinated people accounted for 2.46%, or seven total patients, APH reports.

As of noon Saturday, there are six available ICU beds in the 11-county hospital region that includes Austin-Travis County, according to Texas Department of State Health Services. There are also only 499 available regular hospital beds.

That means 98.8% of all ICU beds in the region are in use.

“We’ve gone from having 70 new cases a day to almost 600 new cases a day. Right now in our hospitals, we have 477 people admitted to the hospital with COVID-19,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority said during this week’s town hall. “And 161 of them are in ICU. One hundred people on ventilators. So, we’ve come to a serious time in our community… almost all of the people who are in the hospital right now are unfortunately unvaccinated.”

In Hays County, resident Harriet Greenlee told KXAN’s Jala Washington what happened when she needed to get her elderly father into the emergency room.

“The ER looked like a mass ward,” Greenlee said. “Patients lined the hallways. My dad needed to be admitted, and there are zero beds. None at St. David’s, Seton, Baylor Scott & White.”

Greenlee eventually got her father care, but for many hospitalizations will continue to pose a problem.

Nationwide, Dr. Natasha Kathuria, Emergency Medicine Physician & Global Health Specialist, explained during the town hall hospitals elsewhere aren’t doing much better.

“Our ERs have been functioning well over capacity for quite some time now with no real end in sight. And we have severe nursing shortages statewide and even nationwide,” said Dr. Kathuria. “So that’s making it even more challenging, because our hospital capacity is limited, because we don’t have enough staff of nurses.”

Back-to-school fears

With just weeks to go before Central Texas families send their kids back to school, this year is bringing along a slew of worries and confusion — as many schools return in person during the delta variant surge.

Delta, according to experts, is proving to be more dangerous among children than previous strains. Currently, only children 12 years of age and older are eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

On Friday, the Austin Independent School District board said it will hold a special meeting on Monday. The announcement came just one day after the Houston Independent School District proposed a possible mask mandate — despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mandates from local governmental bodies.

The purpose of the meeting hasn’t been released yet.

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