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Austin at Stage 5 threshold as ICU capacity reaches critical levels

(Charlie L. Harper III)

After reaching Stage 4 last week of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, Austin-Travis County is now at the Stage 5 threshold with a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations and dwindling ICU capacity.

While unenforceable under Gov. Greg's Abbott order against local mandates, vaccinated individuals are asked to choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distance and wearing masks indoors. Partially or unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping, choose curbside and delivery options, as well as wear a mask on essential trips.

Flashing back to early-pandemic times, hospitals are at critical capacity—the 11 county Trauma Service Region of 2.3 million people is fluctuating at 16 staffed beds, according to APH.

In a statement on behalf of Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's Healthcare, a spokesperson said that hospitals are asking residents to "help us and each other" by getting vaccinated and continuing to utilize safety practices to slow the spread of the virus.

According to the statement, a "longstanding" nurse staffing challenge combined with the recent COVID-19 spike is putting "extraordinary pressure" on hospital systems.

Along with the unmitigated spread of the virus in unvaccinated, the more contagious Delta variant is also to blame for the spike in cases. The seven-day moving average of COVID hospitalizations in the Austin area reached the Stage 5 threshold of 50 on Friday, triggering local health officials to ask residents to take action.

Local hospitals have a "surge plan" that includes utilization of "all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings" that will go into effect when capacity is hit, according to the statement.

The hospitals are working on sourcing supplemental staff and emphasized that emergency care will still be available but it may involve patient transfers "in order to provide the most appropriate care."

Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.

"Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care," the statement said. "We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic."

This story has been updated to after publication to include that Austin has reached the Stage 5 threshold.


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