After sounding the alarm last week that the pandemic was growing in Austin, local health officials said Tuesday there are signs of a possible plateau. But caseload increases across the state suggest another surge is on the horizon, and researchers at the University of Texas at Austin estimates that there is a 100% chance the pandemic is growing locally.
"Right now, the projections for Thanksgiving are bleak, but it's not too late to turn that around," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said. "And I'll tell you that if we experience a surge during Thanksgiving, that surge will not be over by Christmas."
Positively, the seven-day moving average of daily new confirmed cases in Travis County is 86, as of Monday evening, down from 93 a week ago. Similarly, the seven-day moving average of daily new hospital admissions is 21, down from more than 23 last Wednesday, and only 11 new admissions were reported on Monday.
Escott said this is "not a clear downward direction yet" but expressed hope for further decline.
However, there are other indicators that remain concerning.
The COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin project the Austin metro will "break into Stage 4 territory of risk as early as Nov. 4," Escott said.
(COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin)
Currently, the Austin area is at a Stage 3 level of risk, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines. The main factor in determining risk is the moving average number of daily COVID-related hospital admissions. At Stage 4—which the metro was in between late June and late July—the daily hospital admissions would total 70 or more.
Escott emphasized that Austinites can reverse this trajectory by redoubling their protective actions: masking, social distancing and washing their hands. But he expressed concern about the consortium's models for different large cities across Texas—and especially El Paso, where hospitals are at capacity and a countywide curfew is in effect.
"This is certainly something we have to pay attention to because, as we saw this summer, surges in other jurisdictions across the state often predated surges of our own," he said.
Another concern is a significant increase in the number of new COVID cases reported at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.
In the last two weeks, Austin-Travis County facilities have reported 40 new cases, four times the number reported in the previous two-week period.
Compounding this risk is a shortage of personal protective equipment.
The Texas Public Interest Research Group, a left-of-center advocacy group, released a report on Tuesday that found more than 10% of nursing homes across the state have no N95 masks.
"It's unconscionable that Texas is dealing with severe PPE shortages at this point in the pandemic," TexPIRG State Director Bay Scoggin said at a press conference on Tuesday.
As Austin's "icepocalypse" melts into the rearview mirror, though day-to-day life has mostly resumed, the city has a long, arduous recovery process ahead. It seems as though no area was immune to the damage inflicted by the historic winter storm.
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