With rising COVID hospitalizations, Austin health officials say convention center field hospital may be activated soon
Austin public health officials expect to start the activation process to open the convention center as a field hospital in the next week or two due to the COVID-19 surge.
"It seems very clear to us that we are going to run out of hospital beds," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said on Wednesday.
Over the last month, the average number of new COVID cases confirmed in Travis County increased 98% to 537. The average number of COVID-related hospital admission grew even more rapidly, increasing 140% to 77 in that same time period.
Between Monday and Tuesday, the average number of COVID-related hospitalizations jumped from 77 to 83 daily, pushing Travis County deeper into the red zone of Stage 5.
The COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin projects the Austin metro will exceed its ICU capacity by Jan. 15 if transmission continues at its current rate. Nearly 90% of ICU beds at the metro's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—are occupied, as of Tuesday afternoon.
(COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)
This surge in hospitalizations is likely fueled by holiday gatherings.
Typically, it takes about two weeks after an event to see the impact it has on the local caseload and hospitalization numbers. The Austin metro is "smack in the middle" of seeing the impact of Christmas gatherings, Escott said, and will likely see hospitalizations continue to increase over the next week as New Year's gatherings reveal their own impact.
"I had one case investigator mention this morning every single person he investigated was directly related to a holiday gathering," Austin Public Health Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette said.
The local positivity rate is also rising sharply. It is now 17.8%, up from 15.5% on Tuesday and 12.7% last week. Escott said it could exceed 20% in the next week if residents do not change their behaviors now.
The high rate of community transmission, combined with the presence of a new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 and a higher number of families opting into in-person learning this semester, has raised concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
"Those three things are going to lead us to have outbreaks related to schools that we may not have seen in the past," Escott said.
Because the Texas Education Agency has tied state funding of public schools to in-person operations, local officials have avoided ordering another shutdown. But Escott reiterated his recommendation that families opt into virtual learning for the next two weeks, at least, if they are able to. His own teenage children attended school in-person last semester but will now be learning from home.
This is not the only incident in which local officials have bristled at the state's pandemic response in recent weeks. The Texas Supreme Court recently blocked Austin-area orders that restricted dining in and drinking at restaurants over the New Year's weekend.
"We have reached the limits of what we can do under state law and through executive orders," Escott said. "We would encourage the state to reassess its plans."
With most areas of the state in surge and record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, he argued it is time for the state to consider stronger policies. "It(s strategy) is clearly not working," he said.
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
As Austin FC took the stage for their first-ever match, they appeared more experienced than their track record. The club held LAFC to a scoreless first half, keeping about equal possession of the ball.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks.
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
It's matchday! Austin FC—Austin's first major league sport team—kicks off its debut season in Los Angeles today after years in the making. We know how much this means to our beloved city and are taking you along with us as we journey to LA!
Austin FC writer Claire Partain and I are excited to bring you game-day coverage straight from the City of Angels. Check back here for updates, and visit our socials: @austonianews for the latest.
5 p.m: Kickoff!
It's finally here! Claire will be updating Austonia's Twitter account live. And we'll post her game recap after the game. Best of luck Verdes!
4:40 p.m: Excitement radiates back home
Watch parties are in plenty supply back home. Austonia's Laura Figi visited Circle Brewing Co. and found a crowd of excited supporters.
4:20 p.m: Austin FC supporters are in the stadium
Although the Banc of California Stadium is hosting the match at limited capacity, we see some green in the stands ahead of kickoff. Just moments away from the Austin FC's debut!
~3:20 p.m: Austin FC's team bus enters the stadium grounds
With a warm welcome from Los Verdes, Austin FC players were welcomed into the Banc of California Stadium.
~1 p.m: Los Verdes in LA
(Rigo Rodriguez/Los Verdes)
Austin FC supporters are making their presence known in LA, including the Los Verdes group.
Los Verdes members started having match-day fun around the area this morning with brunch. We'll be joining them about an hour before the game outside the stadium to share some of their excitement. We'll post immediately to Austonia's Instagram.
11:45 a.m: We landed!
View from hotel room where we're staying; the stadium digital sign can be seen in the right corner. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)
Switching over to pacific time, we're here and it's almost like no time went by. It's 9:45 a.m. here.
We've been in contact with Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, who is also here in LA counting down to kickoff.
8:20 a.m: LA bound
Like many of you, we've been looking forward to this moment for, let's just say, a very long time. Today, we woke up bright and early, headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and hopped on a flight to LA.
A gloomy day in Austin with a very quiet airport, we're headed to sunny skies in California.
As we wait for the game to start at 4:30 p.m., check out Claire's preview of the game with a predicted lineup and timeline of the long journey to get here.