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Back to school spread: Austin area ICUs inch closer to reaching capacity


The Austin metro is not far off from hitting Intensive Care Unit capacity, according to a new report from the University of Texas' COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, which projects city hospitals could be in trouble by the end of the month.

Looking at COVID-19 hospitalizations from March 13, 2020 through July 28, 2021, researchers predict there is a 92% chance Austin's 200-bed ICU capacity will be hit by the end of August and a 94% chance it will be hit by Nov. 1 if transmission stays the same.

ICU capacity for the five-county Austin metro made headlines this weekend for dwindling down to just six available beds, serving 2.4 million people. The influx of hospitalizations is being attributed to the more contagious Delta variants and the spread of the virus among unvaccinated people.

Taking into account several factors, like Delta, the ongoing vaccination effort, the start of the 2021-2022 school year and city-wide compliance with safety measures, researchers said the results of the report "demonstrate the immediate need for heightened social distancing and transmission reducing-precautions" in the five-county area.

"If the Delta variant continues to spread and vaccine uptake continues at the current pace… then we project that COVID-19 hospitalizations will continue to increase exponentially, threatening healthcare capacity in the region, unless measures are taken to slow transmission," the report said.

(UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium)

Austin area schools are set to reopen shortly: Austin ISD begins classes on Aug. 17 and UT classes begin on Aug. 25. Some are opening their doors even earlier—Leander ISD, Pflugerville ISD and Lago Vista ISD start on Aug. 12. If transmission remains stable, UT researchers said there is a 94% chance at least one student would arrive infected on the first day of class.

If schools open for in-person learning, taking precautionary measures would reduce the risk anywhere from 37-54%, the report states. Fully vaccinated students have a 96% lower chance of infection, though children under the age of 12 are not eligible to get vaccinated.

"In-person schooling is projected to increase transmission among children and throughout the community," the report states.

The report, which said it was written to "support public health decision-making and healthcare planning," said high compliance with masking, ventilation and proactive testing, schools could reduce transmission by 37% and pediatric hospitalization by 50%. Unlike last year, vaccines are available to help slow the spread.

Austin ISD said it would require masks on buses and will implement online learning options for students from kindergarten to sixth grade. The district, like many others around the state, is vying for a mask mandate that has been prohibited under an order by Gov. Greg Abbott. Local districts are highly encouraging students wear masks.


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