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As the holiday season comes to a close, Austin Public Health is asking people to stay home for New Year's Eve in a last-ditch effort to flatten the curve and keep people out of hospitals. Otherwise, he warns, Austin may find itself facing an unprecedented surge and a curfew to boot.

Since Austin officially entered Stage 5 guidelines on Wednesday, APH officials have urged people to cut out all nonessential travel and avoid contact with others as much as possible. With hospital admissions up 106% and a 62% ICU increase from the beginning of the month, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott painted a bleak picture of what the new year will look like.

"Our projections forward into the new year continue to look worse and worse day after day," Escott said. "I think right now it appears that we're going to enter 2021 in a state of emergency. I can't stress enough the importance of us taking note today, us changing our behavior today."

In the throes of the holiday season, several holidays back-to-back, a lax attitude toward safety guidelines and parties on New Years Eve could lead to a huge spike, similar to what was seen after Thanksgiving gatherings.

Escott said he is disappointed that bars are still allowed to be open. He said the city's number one concern heading into the new year should be people crowding in bars and clubs on New Year's Eve.

"(Bars) have been packed, people are not masked," Escott said. "We need them to close."

If the upward trend in cases and hospitalization continues, Escott said a curfew could go into effect at the end of this week.

"We can't enforce our way out of a surge. It requires each of us as individuals as businesses to understand that the threat is real, and that it means hospitalizations, and it means to potential loss of life," Escott said. "We don't have much capacity left in our hospitals and our ICUs to take a lot of chances this weekend."

According to Escott, hospitals are nearing dire straits and ICUs could run out of beds as early as next week, which would mean calling in trailers to store the extra patients and a worsening low-staff situation.

In the meantime, vaccines are still being distributed in Phase 1A and Austin residents are urged to wear a mask, wash their hands, continue social distancing and avoid touching their faces.

Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden said she hopes people make the decision to stay home for their community.

"What is going to be very important is that you can think about doing something today by staying home over the next couple of weeks, and not going out to bars to celebrate whether it's New Year's Eve or New Year's weekend," Hayden said. "Our hope is that you will make a better choice and not go out to be in that type of environment."


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