With new COVID cases, hospital admissions and positive tests on the rise in Travis County, local health officials asked residents to recommit to protective actions—or risk a worsening surge as holiday gatherings accelerate transmission.
"The real threat is over Thanksgiving," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday. "If people don't heed the advice, if they gather with family and friends in the traditional sense …. We are going to see substantial spread as a result of that."
In the last 12 days, Travis County has posted a more than 100% increase in the average number of new COVID cases confirmed each day. There has also been a 50% increase in new hospital admissions over the same period.
These trends raise concerns about local hospital capacity.
Already, Travis County hospitals have accepted 13 patients from other jursidictions, Escott said. They are primarily from El Paso, where there are now nearly as many active COVID cases as total cases reported in Travis County since March.
Although Austin's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—have plenty of available beds right now, staffing is a concern.
"From the hospital standpoint, we have beds. We have ventilators," Escott said. "The challenge is the people."
As a result, local health officials have revised the metro's ICU surge capacity from 331 beds to just 200. They are also considering lowering the threshold for Stage 4 risk-based guidelines from an average of 40 new COVID-related hospitalizations each day, given the reduction in ICU beds.
Currently, 64 ICU beds are occupied in the Austin metro.
But updated projections from the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin suggest that many more could be soon.
Based on the current transmission rate, researchers at the consortium estimate that the metro could see as many as 116 ICU patients by mid-December, which means there would be fewer beds available for non-COVID cases, such as heart attacks, strokes and serious injuries.
To help prevent this outcome, local officials are discussing policy changes, such as a reduction in restaurant capacity limits, that might help reverse this trajectory and avoid a second shutdown.
#COVID19 update 11-16-20: We're seeing our numbers increase. We are in a fight to keep schools and businesses open.… https://t.co/ae0Y5Z0xWV— Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask. (@Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask.) 1605577141.0
Ultimately, such changes are up to the governor.
In the meantime, Escott stressed the importance of masking, social distancing and hand-washing over the Thanksgiving holiday.
This is especially important for high school and college students, who may be involved in extracurricular activities or returning home from campus.
(Austin Public Health)
Last week, Travis County school districts reported 144 new COVID cases among students and teachers, nearly all of which stemmed from social or extracurricular activities rather than from classroom interactions, Escott said.
The University of Texas at Austin also reported a significant increase in its clinical testing positivity rate, which was 12.1% for the week ending Nov. 14, compared to 7.1% the week before.
Escott urged students to wear masks while at home and maintain social distancing to avoid infecting their family members and other close contacts.
"We're seeing what we expected to see," he said. "When people aren't masked or social distancing, transmission is happening."
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Despite a 2-0 deficit, there was a pot of gold for Austin FC after all as it celebrated its annual Pride Night with rainbows and a 2-2 comeback draw to FC Dallas Saturday night.
After three FC Dallas losses last season, the Dallas derby draw marks the first time Austin FC has tied against its Copa Texas rival. Austin continues to edge over FC Dallas as it sits at 3rd in the MLS West.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the match:
A somber start
Decked out in colorful hues for LBGTQ+ Pride, Verde fans started the match on a somber note as they held up banners to take a stand against gun violence before the match.
As the national anthem began, fans held up banners with the names of each child that was killed in the Uvalde school shooting and a plea to "end gun violence."
The supporters' section was also dotted with Pride flags and a "Bans off Our Bodies" banner in protest of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
FC Dallas earns a 2-0 lead
That sober tone continued onto the pitch. With midfielder Daniel Pereira's absence due to a red card, the Verde and Black lost two goals to FC Dallas by the 70th minute of play.
FC Dallas played it sneaky for the first half of the match, giving Austin FC plenty of room to hold possession as it waited to strike on a Verde error. That mentality proved dangerous for Austin as Dallas' Paul Arriola took advantage of Brad Stuver's deflection to score the first goal of the night in the 57th minute of play.
Dallas struck once more as Brandon Servant pushed past the Verde line to score the second goal of the match.
Austin FC strikes back
But energy quickly returned to Austin's favor thanks to Designated Player Sebastian Driussi, who scooted past several FC Dallas defenders alongside Moussa Djitte to snag an unlikely first goal for Austin.
A full Verde comeback
Austin's subs proved deadly as momentum returned to the home team toward the end of the match. A well-placed cross from Nick Lima—and a diving header from a fresh-legged Danny Hoesen—helped the team secure the draw with a second Verde goal in the 84th minute of play.
Hoesen, who was Austin's first starting striker last season, has now scored two goals with the team after a yearlong injury stuck him on the bench.
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Hours following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to an abortion, on Friday, about 1,000 people gathered in Republic Square with signs calling for change.
The rally, organized by the group Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights Texas, started at the federal courthouse on Republic Square on Friday at 5 p.m. before the crowd marched to the Texas Capitol. More protests are expected to ensue over the weekend.
People showed up with all types of signs like Mindy Moffa holding up, "Keep your filthy laws off my silky drawers."
Austin joined cities across the country that saw protests for a women's right to an abortion after the ruling.
According to a recent UT poll, 78% of Texas voters support abortion access in most cases.
Sabrina Talghade and Sofia Pellegrini held up signs directed at Texas laws. A Texas trigger law will ban all abortions from the moment of fertilization, starting 30 days after the ruling. When state legislators passed the trigger law last summer, it also passed laws for more protection of firearms, including the right to open carry without a permit.
Lili Enthal of Austin yells as around 1,000 Texans marched to the Texas Capitol.
From the Texas Capitol, Zoe Webb lets her voice be heard against the Supreme Court ruling.
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