100% Austin news, info, and entertainment, straight to your inbox at 6 a.m. every morning.
In five minutes, you're fully informed and ready to start another great day in our city.
On Wednesday, local officials held a press conference for the first time this month to provide a coronavirus update and answer questions.
While Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott addressed some of the big ones—about ventilator capacity and contingency plans, for two—others remain.
Here are some of the answers we're looking for at Austonia—and please share the ones you're looking for by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. When will Austin see its caseload peak?
Modeling by researchers at the University of Texas-Austin shows that this is a moving target. The better Austinites comply with local Stay Home-Work Safe orders, and the more we wear our masks in public, the later this peak will occur.
Additionally, these actions will help suppress the total caseload peak and allow more time for researchers to develop a vaccine and treatment, Dr. Escott said Wednesday.
2. The city announced a surge plan—to be implemented if hospitals hit capacity—and announced supplemental care sites. Where will those sites be?
The city has identified supplemental care sites, Dr. Escott said Wednesday, but has not yet named them. The types of facilities being considered—locally as well as at the state level—include outpatient surgical centers, former hospital buildings, arenas and convention centers.
3. Will there be a dedicated hospital for COVID-19 cases, like we are seeing in some other cities?
Right now, multiple hospital networks are reporting cases, including Ascension, Baylor Scott & White, Seton and St. David's HealthCare. The city has not indicated whether this will change moving forward.
4. What is our exit plan?
"It's not clear what the long term looks like for this virus," Dr. Escott said Wednesday. "It seems unlikely that it's going to disappear. That's just not going to happen. We're going to have to face this at some point—at some stage. Our preference is to take care of cases a little bit at a time, to never exceed the capacity of our health care system, to take good care of those individuals. If we can do that, we can fight this battle for a long time. We can ensure that we are saving as many people as we can."
5. How many tests have been conducted in Austin?
Only state-level numbers are available. As of Thursday afternoon, 106,134 Texans—or 0.37%—had been tested for the coronavirus, per the Department of State Health Services.
Even without knowing the number of tests, there are limitations to the data we have.
For one, there is a delay—the impact of decisions the city makes today might not appear in caseload data for another two weeks, Adler said in a second video posted on Wednesday.
Additionally, test access is limited, and results may be delayed up to a week.
Dr. Escott said last month that there could be seven to 10 times the number of coronavirus cases in Austin as those confirmed with test results.
On Thursday evening, the city reported 642 cases, up 45 the day prior. However, deaths did not increase; hospitalizations went down by three cases, to 72; and an additional 22 people were reported recovered.
"The more tests we give, the more confirmed cases we're going to see," Adler said Wednesday. "We could actually be decreasing the number of infections that are occurring in our city but still have a number going up because we're just giving more tests.
After reaching Stage 4 last week of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, Austin-Travis County is now at the Stage 5 threshold with a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations and dwindling ICU capacity.
While unenforceable under Gov. Greg's Abbott order against local mandates, vaccinated individuals are asked to choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distance and wearing masks indoors. Partially or unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping, choose curbside and delivery options, as well as wear a mask on essential trips.
Flashing back to early-pandemic times, hospitals are at critical capacity—the 11 county Trauma Service Region of 2.3 million people is fluctuating at 16 staffed beds, according to APH.
In a statement on behalf of Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's Healthcare, a spokesperson said that hospitals are asking residents to "help us and each other" by getting vaccinated and continuing to utilize safety practices to slow the spread of the virus.
According to the statement, a "longstanding" nurse staffing challenge combined with the recent COVID-19 spike is putting "extraordinary pressure" on hospital systems.
Along with the unmitigated spread of the virus in unvaccinated, the more contagious Delta variant is also to blame for the spike in cases. The seven-day moving average of COVID hospitalizations in the Austin area reached the Stage 5 threshold of 50 on Friday, triggering local health officials to ask residents to take action.
Local hospitals have a "surge plan" that includes utilization of "all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings" that will go into effect when capacity is hit, according to the statement.
The hospitals are working on sourcing supplemental staff and emphasized that emergency care will still be available but it may involve patient transfers "in order to provide the most appropriate care."
Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.
"Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care," the statement said. "We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic."
This story has been updated to after publication to include that Austin has reached the Stage 5 threshold.
- Everything you need to know about breakthrough cases in Austin ... ›
- Vaccine demand follows Austin ZIP codes with most COVID cases ›
- Delta variant, unvaccinated fuel rise of Austin COVID cases - austonia ›
- Austin bars, restaurants respond to Abbott's reopening order - austonia ›
- 1 1/12 oz sweet pepper-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 3 oz soda water
- 1 oz grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
Austin legend Willie Nelson will perform at the Texas Capitol today, his first large performance since the pandemic began, closing out a four-day long march across Central Texas to build support for federal voting protections.
Organized by The Poor People's Campaign, the march began in Georgetown on Wednesday and will end with a 10 a.m. rally at the Capitol featuring appearances from former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Willie Nelson (with Charlie Sexton & friends) will play a free concert at the Poor People's Campaign march for democracy & justice in Austin this Saturday! https://t.co/zZSA0BpbWA
Sign up to join us and see Willie at 10am Saturday: https://t.co/KrDPIFIvST
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 29, 2021
The rally calls on Congress to "stop attacks on democracy" by ending the filibuster, pass all provisions of the For the People Act, restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and pass permanent protections for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Nelson denounced election law proposals gaining traction in red states, such as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 in Texas, which 55 House Democrats foiled by fleeing to Washington, D.C., on July 12.
The bills would require additional ID verifications for mail-in ballots, allow partisan poll watchers "free movement" and prohibit elections officials from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who didn't request one.
"Laws making it more difficult for people to vote are unAmerican and are intended to punish people of color, the elderly and disabled," Nelson said. "If you can't win by playing the rules, then it's you and your platform–not everyone else's ability to vote."
The march is in the spirit of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which protested the blocking of Black Americans' right to vote by Jim Crow laws.