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(Tricia Daniel/Shutterstock)

Heading into the Fourth of July weekend, Austin health officials begged residents to stay away from each other to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

"You really must stay home right now," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during a media call Wednesday.


Since the state began reopening in early May, the rate of new cases and related hospitalizations has grown exponentially, threatening testing and hospital capacity.

Officials expect Travis County's confirmed caseload to surpass 10,000 later today.

A second shutdown 

Dr. Escott provided a threshold for when he will recommend that Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe issue new stay-home orders.

"If [the seven-day moving average for new hospital admissions] surpasses 70, then I will make that recommendation," he said.

Right now, the moving average is 55, according to the county's COVID-19 dashboard. Yesterday, 67 patients were admitted to area hospitals with COVID-19. Dr. Escott said that he may make the recommendation sooner, especially if surrounding jurisdictions seem poised to exceed their hospital capacity—which would likely cause spillover into Travis County facilities.

"I'm concerned about our neighbors in San Antonio and Bexar County, who are reporting more than 1,000 cases a day right now," he said.

Flattening the curve 

As of yesterday, Austin's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—reported that 72% of their collective 2,470 staffed hospital beds are occupied and 80% of their 483 ICU beds are.

Dr. Escott is less concerned about hospital capacity—which he said is normally within the 85% to 95% range—than he is with the increasing rate at which new cases are being reported in Austin and elsewhere.

"We cannot afford to have major fires burning in all of our major cities [in Texas] and expect to be able to provide hospital beds to everyone who gets sick if we don't make serious changes right now," he said.

To this end, Dr. Escott asked Austinites to stay home when possible and to be vigilant about masking, social distancing and hygiene when not.

"We cannot afford missteps right now," he said. "Not this weekend."

Convention center prep 

In response, Dr. Escott has issued a request for federal funding to build out an alternate care site. Although the city has not officially announced its location, local officials have said it will be hosted at the Austin Convention Center.

"It will take several weeks for us to build it up in such a way to start taking patients," Dr. Escott said, adding that it will be outfitted in installments to match the demand for care.

The total capacity of the site, as detailed in the city's surge plan, is around 1,500 low-acuity patients.

If staffing the alternative care site, or area hospitals, becomes an issue, Dr. Escott said he has received confirmation from the White House that it will provide additional medical personnel through the U.S. military.

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