Austin COVID hospitalizations reach highest point in months as four Delta variant cases are confirmed
COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise in Austin, likely fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant and overwhelmingly affecting unvaccinated individuals.
There have been four confirmed Delta variant cases in Travis County, Austin Public Health announced Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there were 24 new admissions in the five-county Austin metro on Tuesday, bringing the seven-day moving average to 19—its highest point since April 29, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.
This puts the metro squarely in stage three, where APH recommends that high-risk unvaccinated individuals—namely those 65 years or older—avoid any non-essential activities to mitigate risk.
Overall, 100 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the metro as of Tuesday, with 39 in the ICU and 19 on ventilators.
More than 90% of the hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes told KXAN last week, mirroring trends around the country.
The Austin metro is now in stage three of APH's risk-based guidelines based on new hospital admissions. (Austin Public Health)
New reported cases are also trending upwards. More than 200 cases were reported Tuesday, bringing the seven-day moving average to 85, up from 33 a week ago, according to APH.
Walkes told Travis County commissioners on Tuesday that the likely culprit behind these trends is the more contagious and deadly Delta variant, which now accounts for about 58% of all COVID cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. In late May, Delta was estimated to account for approximately only 3% of new cases in the U.S.
Although Travis County is approaching the threshold for herd immunity—which experts have estimated is around 70%—it has not yet reached it, meaning that the disease is still circulating and evolving to become more contagious, pushing the threshold further up. There are also still subsets of the population that are not yet eligible for the vaccine, including young children.
More than 70% of Travis County residents 12 and older are partially vaccinated, and more than 61% are fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Local health officials continue to implore residents to get vaccinated if they haven't already. "Existing vaccinations are still more than 90% effective in keeping individuals safe," Interim APH Director Adrienne Sturrup said in a July 2 press release. "It is more important than ever to have these discussions around vaccinations and why they are so important for families and our community in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19."
Information about where to find a free COVID vaccine can be found here.
This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include how many cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed in the metro.
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The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call an emergency special legislative session to consider a variety of gun restrictions and safety measures in the wake of a mass school shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two adults dead this week.
In a letter released Saturday morning, all 13 Senate Democrats demanded lawmakers pass legislation that raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 years old. The Uvalde gunman was 18 and had purchased two AR-style rifles which he used in the attack.
The caucus is also calling for universal background checks for all firearm sales, “red flag” laws that allow a judge to temporarily remove firearms from people who are considered an imminent threat to themselves or others, a “cooling off period” for the purchase of a firearm and regulations on high capacity magazines for citizens.
“Texas has suffered more mass shootings over the past decade than any other state. In Sutherland Springs, 26 people died. At Santa Fe High School outside Houston, 10 people died. In El Paso, 23 people died at a Walmart. Seven people died in Midland-Odessa,” the letter reads. “After each of these mass killings, you have held press conferences and roundtables promising things would change. After the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, those broken promises have never rung more hollow. The time to take real action is now.”
Such laws are unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has a track record of favoring legislation that loosens gun restrictions. Only the governor has the power to call lawmakers back into a special session for emergency work.
Asked about a special session at a Friday press conference in Uvalde, Abbott said “all options are on the table” adding that he believed laws would ultimately be passed to address this week’s horrors. However, he suggested laws would be more tailored toward addressing mental health, rather than gun control.
“You can expect robust discussion and my hope is laws are passed, that I will sign, addressing health care in this state,” he said, “That status quo is unacceptable. This crime is unacceptable. We’re not going to be here and do nothing about it.”
He resisted the idea of increasing the age to purchase a firearm, saying that since Texas became a state, 18-year-olds have been able to buy a gun.
He also dismissed universal background checks saying existing background check policies did not prevent the Santa Fe and Sutherland Springs shootings, which both happened while he has been in office.
“If everyone wants to seize upon a particular strategy and say that’s the golden strategy right there, look at what happened in the Santa Fe shooting,” he said. “A background check had no relevance because the shooter took the gun from his parents…Anyone who suggests we should focus on background checks as opposed to mental health, I suggest is mistaken.”
Since the massacre at Robb Elementary School, the governor’s comments about potential solutions have centered around increasing mental health services, rather than restricting access to firearms.
This story has been edited for length.
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Designs for stations along Project Connect’s Blue Line were presented this week, giving a detailed look at what part of the rail system extending from downtown to the airport could look like.
The planned stations that have gotten the latest focus include Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations past Lady Bird Lake.
At the Waterfront station, the preliminary design aims to prevent visual obstructions and save on costs. This is accomplished by a transit guideway that will lower from the bridge to a level station.
Heading onto East Riverside Drive, the light rail faces a curve requiring a slow down to about 10 miles per hour.
The Travis Heights station could involve relocating a pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive to Blunn Creek. Since light rails can't effectively operate on a steep grade, this allows the transit guideway to avoid that.
From there, the rail will extend to the Norwood Park area, and though it will reach along the right-of-way zone, the park will be able to remain open.
A view of the Blue Line by Lady Bird Lake. (Project Connect)
The line involves some coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. That's because the department is working on an intersection that will have to be built before the phasing of the section of the Blue Line involving an I-35 crossing.
When it comes to the safety of cyclists and walkers, design ideas include a pedestrian hybrid beacon by East Bouldin Creek that would provide a protected signal to cross. And for the intersection TxDOT is carrying out, Project Connect is working with them on pedestrian access across the intersection. It could involve shared use paths along the street and crossings beneath it.
This summer, the public can expect 30% of design and cost estimates to be released. Though the project was $7.1 billion when voters approved it in November 2020, the latest estimates factoring in inflation and supply chain constraints show it could ultimately be upwards of $10 billion.
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