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Austin has fallen to single-digit available ICU beds as COVID once again surges in the metro. (Shutterstock)

As available ICU beds trickle down to just six, Austin Public Health sent texts, phone calls and emails en masse to warn residents of the now "dire" COVID surge.

With fewer than ten ICU beds and roughly 313 ventilators left available in the metro of 2.4 million people, Austin Public Health Medical Director Desmar Walkes called the situation a potential "catastrophe" and said, "the situation is critical."

"Our hospitals are severely stressed and there is little we can do to alleviate their burden with the surging cases," Walkes said.

The city is at Stage 5 as of Aug. 5, the highest level of APH's COVID-risk-based guidelines, after hospital admissions increased sixfold and cases increased 10 times in July. The seven-day moving average for new hospital admissions reached 78.4 on Friday.


The highly contagious Delta variant has been largely to blame for the surge, APH officials said, and they recommend that residents stay home and mask up whenever possible regardless of vaccination status.

While vaccinated residents are contracting COVID, they are being hospitalized at much lower rates. Just one ICU patient at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin was vaccinated after receiving the shot following a positive COVID test result, pulmonary critical care specialist Dr. John David Hinze said on Friday.

"No one would be in my ICU (if everyone was vaccinated)," Hinze said. "This is an overwhelming surge and we're right at capacity in our ICU."

Hinze joins APH officials in urging Austinites to get vaxxed as the virus mutates and latches on to unvaccinated hosts. Austin is in the CDC's "highest risk" category as APH officials raise their goal to an 80% vaccination rate in order to reach herd immunity. Before that threshold is reached, officials and frontline doctors say that new groups are being affected by this "meaner" virus, including young people and pregnant women.

Hinze said that patients as young as 19 are being admitted into the ICU as they make tough calls on who receives ECMO treatment, a last-ditch lifesaving machine used to help give the lungs rest. Unlike past surges, children under 12, who are not eligible to be vaccinated, are seeing more frequent cases, and pregnant women are seeing a higher ICU admission and mortality rate.

In order to combat the emergency and keep ICU beds under capacity, the city hopes to see businesses employ masking policies and social distancing as they ramp up vaccine outreach efforts to achieve herd immunity.

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