AUSTIN (KXAN) — As local health leaders have been warning for weeks, the number of intensive care unit beds available in the Austin area for COVID-19 patients is dwindling.
At presentations for both Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday, Austin Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott shared the latest projections from the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 modeling consortium which indicate Austin will exceed its ICU capacity on January 14.
For months, Austin Public Health has said that it has heard from local health care systems that they collectively have 200 spare beds to treat COVID-19 patients. The projections from the UT model expect Austin will pass that threshold in two days.
The strain on Austin area hospitals and health care workers factored into the decision to open up the Austin Convention Center Tuesday as an alternate care site for low acuity patients hospitals don’t have room for.
The data from Austin Public Health Tuesday for the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area shows the region has more people hospitalized with COVID-19 and in ICUs with COVID-19 than ever before.
Austin’s three major health care systems, Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health, and St. David’s HealthCare shared Tuesday evening that of the 2,473 staffed beds within all three systems, 75% are occupied and of the 483 ICU beds, 91% are occupied.
Austin City Council member Greg Casar posted on Twitter Tuesday about the recent data regarding COVID-19 hospitalizations in the area.
Casar explained that while positivity rates in the area are down, the good news ends there.
“Our community has administered a big increase in the number of tests, because more people are getting sick,” Casar said. “So the percent positive has dipped some, but the overall number of sick is rising.”
Austin Public Health reports there’s a decrease in growth in cases — which means people who are sick are staying away from others. But, Casar noted, that doesn’t mean there’s a decrease in the number of cases.
Casar noted that Austin Public Health has just received a shipment of 12,000 vaccines — its biggest shipment yet — and that registration will open on Wednesday.
While the scope of who will be able to receive the vaccines was recently opened up, APH reports that focus will still be on those at highest risk, including the elderly, the uninsured, and those remaining from the 1A groups.
Vaccines will be available at four locations by appointment. Registration will be done online or by phone if residents don’t have internet access.
“We’ll build on this shipment and [are] working with the state to move toward 2,000-10,000 vaccinations a day through us and our partners,” Casar said. “Remember, currently vast majority of vaccines are going to private health providers. Those with a doctor/insurance should prioritize private appointments.”
Casar explained that while COVID-19 impacts everyone, its impact — as is well-documented — has been disproportionately devastating for communities of color.
“Latino communities like those in D4 have been devastated — recent improvements are being lost,” he said. “Lately, Black Austinites have seen worsening levels of disproportionate impact in a big way.”
But Casar pointed in inequities in where vaccine clinics are located relatize to the places with the highest concentration of cases.
“Private providers tend to be in higher income areas,” Casar explained.
APH has laid out its intentions for vaccines to be distributed equitably, saying it’s prioritizing populations of color, those living in poverty, those without transportation access, and those in areas where disease transmission is highest.