(Shutterstock)

Researchers at the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin predict there is a 96% chance the COVID-19 pandemic is growing in Austin.


Their model uses local COVID hospitalization data as well as cell phone mobility data to estimate the local state of the pandemic. Last week, it predicted there was only a 66% chance the pandemic was growing locally.

(COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said these projections, coupled with local caseload data, should sound an alarm for residents.

"I can't stress enough," he said on Tuesday, "we are in a very precarious time right now."

The moving average number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Travis County and related hospitalizations in the Austin metro are both in the midst of a two-week sustained upward trend.

The average number of daily new confirmed COVID cases is 93, as of Monday evening, according to Austin Public Health data. This represents a nearly 20% increase since Sept. 1, when the average was 78.

The average number of daily new COVID hospital admissions is 18, the highest it has been since Sept. 8.

In addition to an increasing number of new cases and hospitalizations, the number of total patients hospitalized with COVID, in the ICU and on ventilators have also increased in the Austin metro over the last few weeks.

(Rational Anarchy/Reddit)

At this rate, the UT researchers project that the metro could approach its ICU capacity by mid-November.

Escott attributed these shifts—which arrive after six weeks of a more-or-less flattened curve and are mirrored across the country—to pandemic fatigue.

"This disease hasn't changed," he said. "What's changed is us."

In addition to recommitting to masking, social distancing and other protective behaviors, Austinites should get their flu shots, per Escott's advice

Last year, hospitals in the Austin metro nearly hit their ICU capacity with flu patients alone. Although the flu test positivity rate is currently just over 1%—which Escott said is excellent—there is still concern about the prospect of a twindemic.

"We have the potential of effectively lowering the surge capacity that we have for COVID-19 if we have flu hospitalizations as well," Escott said. "So now is the time to be extra cautious."

Austin area primary and secondary schools are not posting significant increases in new cases, but clusters continue to emerge from extracurricular and social activities, such as parent-sanctioned parties.

Children and young adults are at very low risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, but they can transmit the disease to those in other age groups, such as their teachers and grandparents.

As a result, Escott said he hopes Austinites take note of these concerning trends.

"We can change this forecast," he said. "Thanksgiving is going to be ugly if we don't change our actions now."

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