(Charlie L. Harper III/Austonia)

Austin Public Health will work to determine if additional COVID-19 restrictions are warranted following a jump in the average number of daily hospital admissions and concerns about ICU capacity.

"If we're at that trigger point, then we expect that decision to be made in the next 24 hours," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during a press conference Wednesday morning.

The county's seven-day moving average of daily hospital admissions leapt from 64.6 to 74.8, hours after local health officials said that, for several weeks, there have been more patients in hospitals with the coronavirus than reported.

Considering Stage 5

Surpassing 70 average daily hospitalizations puts the Austin area above the threshold for Stage 5 COVID-19 risk, according to APH guidelines, but local officials have so far held off on implementing any new restrictions.

Dr. Escott will meet with Austin's hospital executives and researchers at the University of Texas at Austin later today to decide if the current situation warrants a Stage 5 designation.

He said previously that if the average number of hospital admissions reaches 70, he would recommend a second shutdown to local elected officials—though they don't technically have the power to do so without the governor.

In the meantime, Dr. Escott urged Austinites to voluntarily stay home and reduce their social interactions by 90% as most did during the city's April shelter-in-place order.

"We want you to go back to those days," APH Director Stephanie Hayden said at the press conference.

Hospital capacity and personnel

Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare provided updated occupancy rates Tuesday evening. Collectively, the three hospital systems have 2,473 staffed beds, of which 76% are occupied. Of their collective 483 ICU beds, 85% are filled.

Sarah Eckhardt, special assistant to Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, told the Austin American-Statesman Tuesday that the Austin Convention Center is being prepared as a field hospital.

Hospital CEOs raised concerns about ICU capacity during a phone call last week, Dr. Escott said, with the main issue being personnel.

"It doesn't do us much good if we have a bed and equipment without the staff," Dr. Escott told commissioners. "So we have to have the space, the stuff and the staff—all three things—in order to make a hospital bed work."

APH is working with the federal and state governments as well as independent contractors to increase staffing levels and allow for increased ICU capacity within area hospitals.

Austin, and the state of Texas, are facing a surge and will likely need to recruit nurses, physicians and other staff from around the country to meet demand.

"We saw a number of nurses and physicians from Texas going to New York when they were facing a surge," Dr. Escott said.

The COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas will provide updated projections, including about local ICU capacity, later today.

This article has been updated as more information was made available.

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