New University of Texas models recommend immediate restrictions in Austin to prevent overwhelmed hospitals
Without significant behavior and policy changes, Austin-area hospitals will reach capacity in mid-July, according to updated projections by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin.
"Right now it seems like we should be doing everything we can—short of a stay-home order—to stop transmission," Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers told Austin City Council members on Monday. "We're at that point."
An evolving guide
Austin Public Health issued a color-coded, five-stage guide to policy recommendations in mid-May. The thresholds between stages are based on the rolling average of new daily hospital admissions for COVID patients. The recommendations ranged from limiting social gatherings to returning to "Stay Home-Work Safe" conditions.
(Austin Public Health)
This week, APH updated its thresholds to account for adjusted hospital capacity and average hospital stay, which is currently about nine days. "By changing the threshold triggers, the community is able to remain in Stage 4 for a longer period of time before crossing into Stage 5," APH said in a statement.
The new stage thresholds are as follows:
The updated guidelines increase the threshold for Stage 2 from a rolling average of 5 new daily COVID-related hospital admissions to 10, Stage 3 from 19 to 39 and Stage 4 from 20 to 40.
While local officials are unable to implement policies that interfere with state orders, Dr. Meyers presented a series of scenarios that project how different policy interventions might play out.
"It's very hard to project what COVID is going to do beyond a couple weeks because we cannot predict behavior, and we cannot predict policy," she said.
The scenarios project with 95% certainty that area hospitals will not exceed capacity—a total of 1,500 COVID-19 patients—if certain measures are taken. While the interventions vary, each scenario is expected to result in 2,100 total deaths between now and the end of 2021. The difference between them is the duration, timing and extent of the shutdown.
1. In the first scenario, Austin officials would implement the policy changes recommended at Stage 4 of APH's risk-based guide, which Dr. Meyers helped develop.
Dr. Meyers presented this scenario, which presumes partial measures are taken now to contain the current surge.(COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)
If people comply—wearing masks, limiting social gatherings and minimizing unnecessary trips outside of their homes—the projections suggest that hospitals will not exceed capacity, Stage 5 will never be reached and by December the curve will begin to flatten.
If such precautions are not taken and adhered to, Austin will escalate to Stage 5, at which point partial measures will not be enough and a second stay-home order is recommended.
2. In this second scenario, Austin would likely see a series of stay-home orders issued between now and early next year to avoid exceeding hospital capacity.
In the second scenario, the current surge forces a second shutdown order—and then a series of additional shutdowns—to avoid overwhelming local hospital capacity.(COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)
"That's pretty bleak," Dr. Meyers said. "It's several months of periodic stay home."
3. In the third scenario, Dr. Meyers and her team modeled what would happen if local officials don't implement policy changes immediately, but in mid-July issue a five-week stay-home order in an attempt to slow transmission of COVID-19.
The final scenarios projects the outcome if a five-week shutdown is implemented now, which would prompt a three-month period in Stage 4. (COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)
Following the five-week period, the projection is that Austin would enter Stage 4 for three months, during which time schools would reopen.
"The only scenario I think that would be really, really impossible to have any schooling would be if we're in [Stage 5]," Dr. Meyers said, adding that at Stage 4 there would still need to be some "pretty extreme" measures in place to ensure transmission isn't escalating.
- COVID-19 'does spread silently' as Austin hits record high - austonia ›
- Austin hospitalizations trigger stage 4 risk - austonia ›
- Less distancing may come at 'substantial cost' in lives, UT COVID ... ›
- Is Austin flattening the COVID curve? - austonia ›
- Austin prepares for surge in deaths - austonia ›
- Austin COVID hospitalizations decline, but risk level remains - austonia ›
- FBI: China may be trying to steal UT-Austin's COVID research - austonia ›
- Longhorns fans will mask up at home games University of Texas - austonia ›
- UT Austin debuts new hologram program amid pandemic - austonia ›
- COVID update: here's what it would take for mask mandates to return to Austin - austonia ›
- Adler requests proof of vaccination be required of city employees - austonia ›
- Austin down to just six available ICU beds as COVID cases surge - austonia ›
For the first time since July 30, the seven-day moving average for COVID hospitalizations dropped below 50 on Tuesday, reaching the Stage 4 threshold.
At 49, the number is low enough to lower guidelines, but the city has not yet changed its Stage 5 status.
Austin has been in Stage 5, the highest level of Austin Public Health's COVID risk-based guidelines, for over a month as case rates and hospitalizations surpassed last summer's surge, the Delta variant targeted the unvaccinated and a younger demographic and ICUs surpassed capacity in the Austin metro. But with the seven-day moving average at 49 on Tuesday, it may be a sign that the third surge is beginning to end.
On Tuesday, 515 new cases were reported, down from a third-surge peak of 1,261 on Thursday, Sept. 7. Two days after the peak, Austin reported 1,000 COVID deaths and broke a daily death toll record with 23 deaths in a single day.
But while cases and hospitalizations are dipping, the city still has many factors to consider before dropping safety guidelines. Austin Public Health told KXAN Wednesday that key indicators including "positivity rate, the doubling time of new cases, and current ICU and ventilator patients" will need to be evaluated first.
The metro continues to have no ICU beds available as Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes says patients from other counties come into the area to seek care. Travis County saw 35 COVID deaths for the week of Sept. 17, slightly down from a peak of 36 for two weeks prior.
The lower hospitalization rate comes as Austin reaches a 70% vaccinated population, a number once thought to be needed to reach herd immunity. With the highly contagious Delta variant, however, many think that the new herd immunity rate is closer to 80%. But Austin officials have reported being "cautiously optimistic" as the moving average for hospital admissions slowly declined from their peak of 83.6 on Aug. 11.
"We're starting to see our case numbers decrease over time, and that is an exceptional thing to say at this point, but we're still cautiously optimistic," Walkes said.
Under Stage 4 guidelines with the Delta variant, APH continues to recommend limiting dining to takeout/curbside for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals and slightly lifts shopping and travel guidelines to "only if essential." Stage 4 continues to recommend masks for vaccinated individuals in social and public settings but now includes high-risk vaccinated individuals that were recommended to stay home unless essential in Stage 5.
(Austin Public Health)
(Austin Public Health)
- Austin reenters stage 4, in which residents asked to mask up ... ›
- COVID hospitalizations reach Stage 4 threshold - austonia ›
- Austin enters Stage 5, residents urged to stay home - austonia ›
- Austin reaches Stage 5 as hospitalizations and cases rise - austonia ›
- Austin at stage 5 COVID threshold, ICU capacity at critical levels ... ›
- Austin ties for highest COVID deaths in a single day in Sept - austonia ›
- COVID death toll higher now in Austin than last year - austonia ›
- Austin-Travis County shifts herd immunity goal to 80% - austonia ›
- Austin-Travis County approaches COVID-19 herd immunity threshold ›
Austin's new police chief is former assistant chief Joseph Chacon, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk announced Wednesday morning.
Narrowing a pool of 46 candidates down to seven, then three, Chacon beat out Avery L. Moore, assistant chief of the Dallas Police Department, and Emada E. Tingirides, deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, for the position. Austin City Council will still need to confirm the appointment come Sept. 30.
"I'm confident Interim chief Joseph Chacon is the right person to lead our City's police department to achieve results, build trust and transparency, and accomplish equitable public safety outcomes for all Austin residents and visitors," Cronk said.
Chacon, who was the interim chief for the past six months, will assume the position after Brian Manley retired in March and the department underwent scrutiny with a rise of murders and crime in the city. The Austin Police Department is also undergoing reform as a result of last year's Black Lives Matter protests that ultimately resulted in city council cutting and reallocating millions of the police budget. The department has additionally faced a staffing shortage that predates the budget cuts and was exacerbated by the halting of police cadet classes—classes have since resumed with a new curriculum at the beginning of summer.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Cronk said the final decision was driven by input from the community. He said Chacon is committed to reshaping public safety and gaining the trust of the community—putting in the work to do so.
Chacon acknowledged APD is at a crossroads, saying its relationship with the community needs a reset and it the department will be committed to transparency. He cited a change he made as interim chief that releases video of officer-involved incidents in 10 days as opposed to 60, which he says is in line with such expectations of transparency.
When discussing the spike in homicides, he said the homicide unit has worked to solve most cases and hold those responsible accountable.
"We remain one of the safest big cities in the United States and this is in large part due to to the daily efforts of the men and women of this department who show up every day with courage, respect, professionalism, integrity and a heart for service," Chacon said. "They keep this city safe every day."
He also addressed the attrition rates at the department, citing that while officers are leaving at high numbers, people are also applying at record rates.
Like Manley, Chacon is an internal hire; Cronk said he did not anticipate making an internal hire initially.
Chacon has been in law enforcement for 28 years and was appointed assistant chief in Austin in 2016.
"I am extremely excited and humbled by this amazing opportunity," Chacon said. "Austin PD is at a critical juncture, and I am honored that the city manager is showing the trust in me to lead this amazing organization. I will be engaging our department employees and our community to make sure we are moving forward in the best way possible."
This story was updated after the 1:30 p.m. press conference.
What, you think the only thing there is to do at Austin City Limits is to watch your favorite artists? Must be your first time. ACL is more than just a dreamy three-day soundscape in the park—between sets, the festival has so much to offer that it's nearly impossible to get bored.
You're bound to have some downtime while attending ACL 2021, so when you do, make an effort to explore the booths, zones, markets and branded seatbelt forests—you'll be glad you did.
Ice for your Hydroflask
(Katrina Barber for ACL Fest)
Empty plastic or aluminum water bottles are welcomed inside the festival and ACL does a great job of keeping attendees hydrated, so there's no reason to buy water or waste plastic while attending. You have to bring the bottles in empty but there are several filling stations for water bottles located around the park. None of them offer ice, which can be essential during those 100-degree days. Head to any of the bars located in the park and ask for a cup of ice—bartenders are happy to part with it and you'll be cool as a cucumber!
Access to private lounges
Need a break from the never-ending sun? A snack that doesn't cost $30? There are private, shady lounges all over the park—some for exclusive ticket holders, some waiting to be discovered by even the one-day crowd. Take for instance the T-Mobile Lounge, located adjacent to the stage of the same name, offered patrons a wristband to access the lounge in exchange for a social media post back in 2019. If you're an American Express cardholder, the benefits are numerous: a lounge open only to cardholders and complimentary merch awaits those who don the card.
Free prizes, snacks and drinks
(Katrina Barber for ACL Fest)
With dozens of vendors on the grounds, swag is not hard to find. You might have to play a game, answer some trivia or post on social media to qualify but the free merch often comes in handy. Forgot a fan? A vendor has one. Need a bandana? Visit the Tito's stand. Lose your water bottle, sunscreen or earplugs? A vendor has you covered, so be generous with the Instagram tags.
The ACL Art Market
(Roger Ho for ACL)
Support local by visiting the artisans at the festival's art market, located in the center of the park. Artists from all walks of life and levels of success sell their artwork yearly at the festival, so you'll need space to store your new keepsake if you're planning to collect. Blue Lux, Austin Art Garage, Greg Davis and Futurgarb are a few previous attendees. You'll know you've made it when you stumble across the massive, colorful "ART" sign.
Clean up trash for free merch
(Katrina Barber for ACL Fest)
Ensuring that Austin's beloved park stays clean throughout the festival, ACL partners with Austin Parks Foundation for its "Rock & Recycle" program that offers a little something for everyone. Stop by the Austin Parks Foundation booth when you have some free time to pick up a bag, fill it up with littered recyclable items and return the full bag for a free T-shirt—that's it. Plus, you can be entered to win other contests every time you help keep the park clean.
See some interactive art installations
Each partner at the festival has something up their sleeves, often worth exploring. As ACL partners change, you're likely to see some returns, like the Honda Seatbelt Forest or the Bumble BFF Find Your Bestie Booth. In 2019, Honda gave attendees a colorful backdrop to pose in front of and a break from the chaos, whereas Bumble promised to introduce you to a new friend and gave out merch to those who gave it a go!
Lend your ear (or your wallet) to a good cause
(Roger Ho for ACL Fest)
ACL is more than just a festival—it's a time to raise awareness for local organizations. Stop by the ACL Cares area, where nonprofits and organizations gather to spread the word, and you're likely to find organizations like Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, SIMS Foundation, Austin Music Foundation, Keep Austin Beautiful, The Nature Conservancy and the Love Hope Strength Foundation, where you can register to be a bone marrow donor at the festival.
- ACL Festival requires negative test or proof of vaccine to attend ... ›
- Tyler, the Creator replacing DaBaby on ACL lineup - austonia ›
- ACL debuts 11 new additions ahead of 2021 festival - austonia ›
- 6 activities that'll remind you it's fall in Austin all month long - austonia ›