Austin hospitals are better prepared, see lower COVID-19 mortality rates despite increased admissions
Despite an exponential increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations in the Austin region, local health care workers feel better armed to respond to a surge than they did in March—and the results are good for patients.
"I feel like we're much more prepared now than we were when this was all starting," said Dr. Doug Jeffrey, a local ER doctor and board member of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians. "We were all extremely worried when we were looking at New York and what was happening there."
New procedures and protocols
In the past few months, Austin's major hospital networks—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—have had time to stock up on personal protective equipment, implement protocols that reduce risk of exposure and finesse treatment.
Emergency departments have implemented universal masking, visitor restrictions, mandatory temperature checks and more regular cleaning, Dr. Jeffrey said. "We've had a lot of time to think about these protocols and put them in practice," he added.
At St. David's South Austin Medical Center, staff have spaced out the chairs in its waiting rooms, transitioned to a wireless keyboard for patient check-in, switched to disposable blood pressure cuffs and cohorted patients suspected to have COVID-19 away from those who are seeking care for other reasons.
"We feel very, very comfortable that we're prepared to care for patients as they present," Chief Medical Officer Dr. DeVry Anderson said. "And really care not just for COVID patients but for all patients that are presenting with both routine and emergent conditions."
Lower mortality for patients
Another positive development is that treatment for COVID-19 patients is improving, as evidenced by a lower mortality rate—now down to 1.7%, from 3.6% in early June—despite increasing hospitalizations.
(Austin Public Health)
Dr. Anderson attributed this shift to a number of factors, including convalescent plasma therapy, access to the antiviral drug remdesivir and more familiarity with how the disease progresses."Having physicians and staff that have gotten, not comfortable, but now understand how to treat and care for these patients, I think it's seamless in the way we transition those [patients] to higher levels of care," he said.
Ventilator management is also better, with patients who may have been put on a ventilator before now being treated with high-flow oxygen and simple position changes—laying on their side instead of their back—to positive effect. "This is where it's nice to not be the first group going through [this]," Dr. Jeffrey said.
Higher exposure for health care workers
But challenges remain, including the continued rationing of PPE, making sure patients don't avoid the ER for fear of the coronavirus and staffing concerns should area hospitals reach capacity.
"I think that's where we would see a situation like we did in New York and in Michigan, where we're going to be getting nurses from other states to come in and help us out," said Serena Bumpus, director of practice for the Texas Nurses Association.
There is also the question of whether doctors and nurses will get COVID-19 themselves—especially considering their increased exposure to sick patients—and further strain staffing levels.
But Bumpus said the danger may not be where people expect: "Our health care workers, with the amount of PPE that they do have access to and that they're wearing inside the hospital, they actually might be more protected than they are out in the general community because the community is not masking fully and maintaining social distancing and washing their hands."
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Terry Black’s Barbecue is journeying outside of the smoked meats sphere and into the hospitality sector, announcing plans to open “Friday Mountain,” a resort-style vineyard near Driftwood.
According to a report from the Austin Business Journal, Friday Mountain will be located on 64 acres at 150 Concord Circle, featuring a boutique hotel with 22 rooms, a 14-acre vineyard and a 20,000-square-foot underground wine facility, a spa, event space, all-day café and high-end restaurant. Construction is poised to start in the next month.
The courtyard outside of the event space will echo Hill Country architecture. (Rogers-O'Brien Construction)
Co-owner Mark Black said he expects construction to last about 10 months, hoping for opening early next year, and would hire around 140 employees: 60 full-time and 80 part-time.
The new project has long been in the works for the restaurateurs—including Mark’s twin brother Mike and sister Christina—who come from the same lineage as those behind Lockhart’s Black’s BBQ but separated the business due to a falling out within the family.
Friday Mountain was originally planned to be a wedding venue but issues arising about noise, traffic and environmental concerns led the Dripping Springs City Council to ask for updated plans.
A rendering of the entrance to the planned underground wine cave. (Rogers-O'Brien Construction)
In the new plans, which have since been submitted, Black said he heard the neighborhood's concerns and is focusing on working with the right contractors to avoid issues. Black said he knows not everyone will be on board with the venue but that it will provide a little something for everyone.
To bring the concept to life, Black is partnering with engineers at Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., architects at Lawrence Group, and Rogers-O’Brien Construction Co. Ltd. as the general contractor.
As for the vineyard, Black has partnered with Salt Lick Cellars to have wine aged and ready to drink wine upon opening and will hand off wine making operations to enthusiast Phil Price.
According to a Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation filing, the project will cost an estimated $20 million to be completed in January 2023.
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The Texas French Bread Bakery, located on 2900 Rio Grande Street, has been completely destroyed after a fire erupted on Monday night.
The Austin Fire Department responded to the fire just before 11 p.m., where they arrived to see flames coming from the roof of the bakery. Firefighters fought the fire for about an hour before the roof collapsed.
While no one was injured in the fire, firefighters say the historic building was completely totaled.
Texas French Bread just went up in flames pic.twitter.com/agXqKN3c00
— Jordan (@AimIessFriend) January 25, 2022
AFD determined that the fire was accidental and caused by mechanical failure. AFD said the damages amounted to $1.6 million total: $1.1 million in structural damage and $500,000 in damage to the contents of the bakery.
This year, Texas French Bread will celebrate 40 years of business. Before the bakery occupied the building, it was the Rome Inn, a music venue that hosted 1970s artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan.