The anticipated post-Thanksgiving surge is starting to reveal itself in the Austin region's COVID-19 caseload and hospitalization data, leading to worsening projections around how the virus will spread in the coming weeks.
"We certainly are seeing an increase," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Wednesday.
Case investigations have revealed that many of the newer cases date back to the holiday
"We are hearing story after story after story about families who gathered during Thanksgiving," Austin Public Health Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette said.
Over the last week, the number of new COVID-related hospital admissions recorded in the Austin metro has increased steadily, with a more significant jump in the last couple days.
On Wednesday, 47 people were admitted to hospitals in the five-county area with the virus, bringing the seven-day moving average to 37, according to APH data. Last week, that average was 30.
There has also been an increase in the number of patients requiring intensive care while hospitalized.
"We are concerned," Escott said. "This is about the time we expect to see the hospital side of things start to be more significantly impacted."
The growing number of hospitalizations doesn't bode well for future projections.
Immediately following Thanksgiving, the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin projected a declining number of cases in the coming weeks. This may have been because of an increased demand for testing in the week before Thanksgiving, which lowered the positivity rate.
But now the consortium's model projects a worsening pandemic locally.
(COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)
So, too, does the model used by the PolicyLab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, which was updated on Wednesday.
"More areas of Texas are also beginning to realize the winter surge, with Houston, San Antonio and Austin leading the way in case incidence growth," PolicyLab researchers wrote in a blog post announcing their findings.
In other news
Despite the increase in cases and hospitalizations, there are reasons for Austinites to feel hopeful.
Travis County is doing better than any other large county in Texas when it comes to mitigating disease spread, which Escott attributed to residents' commitment to protective measures such as masking and social distancing.
Hospitals are also better at caring with COVID patients now than they were during the last surge period, in June and July. Data shows both the case fatality and ICU occupancy rates have improved over the same period thanks to better treatment options and more familiarity with the virus.
"That doesn't mean we shouldn't be careful," Escott said Tuesday. "But our hospitals are in good shape locally."
Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve an emergency use authorization for Pfizer's COVID vaccine on Thursday.
Local health officials have said Austin's priority populations—including nursing home residents, first responders and front-line healthcare workers—will begin receiving the vaccine as soon as next week.
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