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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While searching for a place to live, Austin renters will face monthly rates of nearly $3,000, a recent guide from rental marketplace Dwellsy shows.
The median rent in August this year was $2,930, a more than 86% increase since August 2021. That’s $820 more than the nationwide median asking rent in August and puts Austin just below the Bay Area, Boston and New York for large cities with the most expensive asking rent.
“Within this group, Austin, TX stands out for the highest increases in asking rent, which has nearly doubled since this time last year,” the study notes.
Outside of those large cities, however, others are seeing even higher rent spikes. Metro areas that ranked above Austin in one-year increases include those like Kansas City, MO with a 112% change in rent since last August and Tucson, AZ with a 124% change.
The data reflects large apartment communities, single-family homes and 2-6 unit buildings.
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Remember that ticket you and hundreds of thousands of others bought to get into this year's Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park? Well it turns out it guarantees you a lot more than just music this year.
"By purchasing a ticket, you agree to submit to a full body pat down and magnetometer screening before entry," says the festival's website, which goes on to add, "Persons that refuse to comply with the search will be refused entry to the event."
It's all part of a safety and security plan festival organizers say they're working on 24/7 that changes every day.
"We work closely with the City of Austin to continually evaluate our security measures , both seen and unseen,to ensure the safety of everyone in the park," said one festival organizer.
It's an approach that's led to bans on everything from big bags to backpacks,and selfie sticks to explosives and firearms. But this year a less visible threat to the festival is also listed on their webpage.
"Safety is our highest priority at the ACL Festival," reads the website, "which includes public health."
While this year's website offers links to learn more about preventing a newer Monkeypox threat, Covid concerns continue.
"If you're unvaccinated, the CDC encourages you to bring and wear a mask," says the website which goes on to add, " ACL festival encourages all patrons and staff to look out for each other and to not attend the festival if they don't feel well."
While festival organizers tell us they'll be doing all they can to keep things safe and secure for the close to half a million festival goers expected at the park over two weekends, they're counting on you to do a little more than just enjoy the show.
"Remember:", says the website," You're the eyes and ears of the festival. If you see something suspicious, say something."