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Charlie L. Harper III

"The more tests we give, the more confirmed cases we're going to see," Mayor Steve Adler said Wednesday. (Charlie L. Harper III)

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 news@austonia.com.


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.

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