Travis County adults of all ages are testing positive for COVID-19, but it is largely those over 70 who are dying—nearly two-thirds of the total as of May 1.
As of yesterday evening, Travis County had reported 58 COVID-19 deaths. Demographic data is available only as of May 1, when there were 51 reported deaths. Of those, eight were of people ages 60-69, 10 were ages 70-79 and 24—or nearly 50%—were 80 years or older. Yesterday, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Austin City Council that 30 of the deaths thus far have been of residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Racial disparities in Austin COVID-19 deaths have also emerged, as they have across the U.S.
The proportion of white and black residents who have died of the disease is greater than their share of the local population. Hispanics, who make up 34% of the county, account for 26% of the deaths, but they are overrepresented when it comes to hospitalizations, Dr. Escott told Austin City Council on Tuesday.
But so far Austin has avoided overwhelming its health care system, and it has not seen a sharp increase in at-home deaths as a result of the pandemic.
The Austin Public Health Office of Vital Records registered a total of 819 death certificates between March 1 and April 20, an increase of 43 deaths from the same period last year.
With businesses reopening, however, local officials warn of a second surge in COVID-19 cases. Updated modeling, released last week, predicts cases will peak in June and lead to, conservatively, 6,500 deaths. More than half are expected to be from causes other than COVID-19 as a result of people avoiding hospitals—local emergency rooms are already reporting precipitous drops in admissions.
Dr. Mark Hayward, a sociology professor at UT-Austin, said sifting through these factors—on the one hand COVID-19, and on the other, people avoiding care for fear of contracting it—can make it difficult to compile an accurate pandemic death toll.
Lack of testing is another challenge, since it means we will most likely never have an accurate idea of the total number of cases. For example, Dr. Mark Escott has said the county caseload is likely seven to eight times the number of confirmed cases.
"First of all, we undercount the cases," Dr. Hayward said. "And then … we always undercount the deaths."
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