Austin officials ask people to cancel New Year’s Eve plans as COVID positivity rate reaches shutdown levels
City of Austin officials are asking residents to cancel their New Year's Eve plans and stay inside unless absolutely necessary under the threat of hospitals reaching maximum capacity.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott announced that Austin's positivity rate jumped up more than two points to 12.7% and the ICU is dangerously close, a little over halfway, to hitting capacity.
Once hospital ICU utilization hits capacity, it impacts the ability to take in patients that need emergency care for other reasons, like heart attacks or car wrecks, Escott said.
"Certainly the lesson learned from El Paso and Lubbock and Abilene and the other places that have faced a significant surge already, is that once you run out of ICU beds, you run out of ICU beds for everybody," Escott said. "That means that all these other people who need critical care will not have it because the hospitals are overwhelmed."
Simultaneously, Texas hospitals are seeing record hospitalization numbers. The state hit a high of 11,351 COVID-19-related hospitalizations on Monday, breaking the previous record of 10,893 in July.
With other major counties in Texas seeing similar surges, outside help might not be an option if the time comes. Escott said he expects ICUs to exceed capacity during the first week of January and the positivity rate to jump higher as cases resulting from holiday and new year celebrations.
"As the disease transmission increases in the community, it increases the likelihood that transmission will happen," Escott said. "Defenses become a lot more difficult when more people are capable of transmitting this disease so we need to limit that risk as much as possible."
Although a curfew has not yet been confirmed, Austin Public Health officials have already asked restaurants to abide by a 10:30 p.m. curfew and discussed implementing one for individuals, possibly by the end of this week.
"If we take individuals who are exposed during Christmas gatherings, and put them in boxes on New Year's Eve, and pack them together for hours, the projection is going to be overwhelming," Escott said. "It's gonna happen very, very quickly. I do not think we could afford to take that risk."
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