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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💰 A shocking report Friday from Sam Khan Jr. at The Athletic (paywall), based on Freedom of Information Act requests filed with the University of Texas at Austin, documented a $280,000 football recruiting weekend for nine players, including NFL quarterback royal family scion Arch Manning. Of the nine prized potential recruits, five, including Manning, have committed to the Longhorns.
The next weekend, The Athletic reports, UT spent another $350,00 on 14 more recruits, for a total of $630,000.
Here's where the money went for weekend one. This is a partial list of expenses, totaling $221,808. The Athletic reported that the entire weekend cost "nearly $280,000."
- $21,000 airfare, car service, other travel expenses.
- $1,814 candy, cookies, and other snacks for recruits and family members.
- $46,696 34 rooms at the Four Season, for recruits, family members, and selected UT coaches and staff.
- $17,320 Friday lunch buffet.
- $3,359 rented audio system for afternoon Instagram photoshoots.
- $29,129 Friday dinner buffet at DKR club area for 100+ people: recruits/families, coaches/spouses, recruiters.
- $11,880 J.W. Marriott pool bar tab for Friday night parent social, while recruits "hit the town."
- $10,226 Saturday breakfast at the UT Club.
- $9,498 Saturday afternoon parent social while recruits were at Top Golf.
- $36,900 Saturday dinner at III Forks steakhouse
- $2,357 sunset cruise on Lady Bird Lake
- $31,629 Saturday night parent social at the W Austin hotel.
- ? Sunday breakfast at the Sarkisians' Rollingwood home.
The result? After what one recruit parent described as a "five-star visit," Texas sits with the nation's #2 recruiting class, according to 247Sports Composite, with Alabama at #1.
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