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.
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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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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.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
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.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
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. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
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.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."