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After six weeks of oscillations, the local trend line in new COVID hospitalizations seems to be pointing more decisively upward.


Both the number of daily COVID-related hospital admissions and the number of hospital beds used by COVID patients across the Austin metro have increased in the past week, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday. Additionally, the number of ICU beds and ventilators currently in use by COVID patients increased over the same time period.

"All four of those (metrics) indicate that we may be moving upward in terms of the disease in Travis County and the surrounding jurisdictions," Escott said.

(Austin Public Health)

The number of area residents 70 years of age or older who have been hospitalized with COVID has also increased sharply—by 68%—in the last week, according to Austin Public Health data.

Escott attributed this jump to increasing disease spread among teenagers and younger adults and loosening adherence to precautionary actions.

"If individuals are going to visit their parents or grandparents or other loved ones … they should be using great caution in the 14 days before that visit," he said.

New modeling

Recent projections by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin has also raised concerns.

Currently, researchers estimate that there is a 66% chance that the pandemic will worsen over the next month and that the seven-day moving average number of daily COVID-related hospital admissions could double—from the current rate of 14 to 28—by Nov. 1.

"When we look at the current projections from the University of Texas modelers, it's a bit concerning looking forward to November," Escott said.

This compounds the risk of a "twindemic," when the COVID-19 pandemic overlaps with the annual flu season. Escott and other local health officials continue to encourage residents to get vaccinated.

"Last year, with our bad flu season, we maxed out our ICU capacity," Escott said. "We cannot have that happen this year. We cannot tolerate a twindemic of COVID-19 and influenza."

Minimizing risk

Given these risk factors, Escott recommended that local bars remain closed, even though Texas Gov. Greg Abbott granted county judges the authority to reopen them, with conditions, starting Wednesday. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe announced that he would heed Escott's advice and reevaluate the situation in two weeks.

"I cannot in good conscience allow bars to reopen at 50% capacity at this time," Biscoe said in a statement issued on Wednesday. "The risk to our public health is too great, especially now that students of all ages have returned to the classroom."

Despite these developments, Escott expressed hope that Travis County residents could flatten the curve before it gets worse by recommitting to masking, social distancing, hand-washing and limiting gatherings.

"The second surge comes when we as a community get tired of those protective actions," he said.


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