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Limited ICU beds, alternate care site, booster shots: 5 things to know about COVID-19 in Austin

Booster shots have been approved by the FDA for immunocompromised people. (Jordan Vonderhaar)

After a steep incline of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Austin metro for over a month, the curve could finally begin to flatten.

At a special joint session between the Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners, local health officials gave an update on the COVID situation in the area; here are five takeaways.

It's back-to-school season. How will that affect COVID in the area?

The Austin area is seeing early signs of the curve flattening that Austin's Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes is attributing to a change in COVID precautions taken. Since hitting Stage 5 last month, health authorities have emphasized the need to mask to stop the spread of the Delta variant and have ramped up vaccination efforts.

With Austin ISD and other area school districts employing that students and staff wear a mask, despite ongoing court battles in other Texas cities, Walkes said she hopes to see the curve continue to flatten.

"To curb the spread, we must encourage the kids and staff at our schools to wear a mask."

How many ICU beds are available?

Across the state, ICU beds have been extremely limited. "There's not a lot of transfer that's occurring between major metropolitan areas at this point," Walkes said.

The number of ICU beds in the 11-county Austin metro has fluctuated in the single digits for over a week now; on Sunday, only one ICU bed was available. As of Monday, there are 665 currently hospitalized and only nine ICU beds available.

The age group seeing the most hospitalizations is 50-69 year-olds.

A majority of ICU patients have been unvaccinated, according to Walkes.

Will an alternate care site open?

An alternate care site, like the one that opened at the Austin Convention Center in December, could open sometime soon to support the need of the community, according to Walkes. "We have plans ready to go for that," Walkes said.

The need comes as ICU capacity is projected to be limited across the state. More details, such as location and when it could be set up, were not revealed.

What's else is new?

A new regional infusion center for monoclonal antibody therapy opened on Monday. This facility will treat those at risk for severe illness, hospitalizations and death. The treatment is also used for post-exposure prophylaxis, when an immunocompromised person is been exposed to COVID.

To get this treatment, a local provider will need to refer patients. It is meant to keep these patients out of hospitals by treating them ahead of severe symptoms.

Who is eligible for a booster shot?

As of Monday, the CDC and FDA began recommending immunocompromised people get a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna, known as a booster shot. Austin Public Health is following the guidance and recommending immunocompromised Austinites seek out a booster shot. Booster shots were approved by the FDA for Pfizer and Moderna only.

Boosters are recommended for those:

  • Receiving treatment for solid tumors or blood cancers
  • Taking immunosuppression medications after a solid organ transplant
  • Within two year of receiving CAR-T therapy or stem cell therapy
  • Who have primary immunodeficiencies
  • With advanced or untreated HIV
  • Taking high-dose corticosteroids, alkylating agents, antimetabolites, chemotherapy, TNF blockers
  • With certain chronic medical conditions
  • Receiving dialysis


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