AUSTIN (KXAN) — Effective Tuesday, June 30, the City of Austin is closing Barton Springs Pool and Deep Eddy Pool until further notice, following Austin Public Health’s recommendation.
The closure announcement came just hours after Austin City Council received updates from the city’s Interim Health Authority, Dr. Mark Escott.
“I met with parks today and Director Hayden and made the recommendation that we close our non-chlorinated pools, Barton Creek and Deep Eddy, because that is a place where people congregate,” Escott said. “That is a place where we see the target age group behaving in such a way which is not protected.”
According to Austin Public Health, we’re seeing the highest positivity rate among people with ages between 20 and 40.
Escott also said he thinks the city needs to identify areas it can control to minimize gatherings, but also encouraged businesses to do the same — “still keep things functional, still pay the bills, but dial things back so that we don’t have to dial off because in any circumstance if we have to dial off, we’re all gonna be hurt by that.”
He also warned that with the Fourth of July weekend coming up, it’s even more critical for people not to congregate, as difficult as that can be.
“I know it stinks but that’s what we have to do right now because we are in a very, very dangerous spot and if we have those activities happening this weekend, this may accelerate things in a much faster way and we just cannot take that chance right now,” he said.
2 scenarios to keep from exceeding hospital capacity
The city council on Monday also heard from the University of Texas at Austin researchers who’ve been studying the coronavirus hospitalization data.
They showed different scenarios in which the city could implement different types of policies to avoid reaching and exceeding hospital capacity.
One scenario showed if everyone starts wearing masks and significantly reduces interaction with other people, we could see hospitalizations start to decrease closer to October, and we could avoid returning to that full lockdown mode we saw in April.
But a catch would be that we would be in that very cautious mode all throughout this year, in order to not exceed our hospital capacity.
Another option showed going into the stay home mode for 35 days soon and then lifting the restrictions slowly, just in time for back to school.
Researchers emphasized models can change depending on how quickly people start acting more cautiously and how effectively people reduce interaction to ultimately reduce transmission.
Cases spike, hospitals prepare
Since the first week of June, Austin Public Health has been reporting a steady increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases, as well as hospitalization numbers.
“Today’s the first day I feel like I’m getting some breath back,” said Jimmy Cazin who had to be hospitalized. Cazin told KXAN he had mild COVID-19 symptoms for about a week, but over the weekend, he had to go to an emergency room.
“Deeper burn down my throat. I had massive gastrointestinal issues,” he explained.
He is now at St. David’s HealthCare in Georgetown. “They have all the specialists and resources here to really help manage this virus,” Cazin said.
St. David’s officials told KXAN their hospitals have capacity to care for COVID-19 patients. However, in some cases, “we are transferring patients between facilities within our healthcare system in order to provide the most appropriate care.” They sent KXAN a statement, which read in part:
“Patients may be transferred to another hospital to effectively address a patient’s specific healthcare needs, as well as to balance hospital capacity among our facilities.“
Escott also said that the city has a commitment from all three major hospital systems in the area that if one runs out of ventilators, the others will either lend them ventilators or accept their patients.
Cazin said he was given plasma with antibodies, and doctors started him on Remdisivir.
“I don’t have any fear at this point. I feel comfortable where I’m at. I feel blessed,” he said. “It’s out of my hands. I have to trust God. I’m trusting the doctors, the nurses.”
Currently, Cazin is one of about 350 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in the Austin region.
The City says it will soon have a map of facilities offering testing, and that in the future testing sites could include grocery stories.
At some point, Escott said, Austin Public Health will start to step back from testing as those doctor’s offices, pharmacies and others take on a greater role.
Preparing to treat the overflow
Escott told the city council, even though there are still 350 beds available, “This is a warning for us that two or three or four weeks down the road we may be in a much different situation.”
And, beyond that, Escott is already looking to flu season in September.
“It’s going to be critically important, critically important that we have a better immunization rate for the flu than we’ve ever seen before because we cannot tolerate a COVID surge and a flu surge at the same time. There’s just not enough capacity,” he said.
The city said it’s working on a plan to create an overflow treatment site. Our news partners at the Texas Tribune found authorities have been floating the Austin Convention Center as an option. But Escott said what needs to happen first is people wearing masks and staying home as much as possible.
“Let me be very clear, we do not want to utilize that facility. We do not want to care for people outside a hospital if we can avoid it,” he said.