The reopening of the University of Texas at Austin could amplify community transmission of COVID-19 in the Austin area, according to a new report published by the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
"The projections suggest that transmission among UT students could spill over into the Austin community, leading to increasing numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations," the researchers wrote.
The consortium, which is based at UT Austin and led by Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, projected transmission rates for the period between Aug. 26, when the fall semester began, and Dec. 20.
Under the mildest scenario, which assumes that transmission rates among UT students and Austin residents are lower than current estimates, the researchers estimate that 638 students will be infected and approximately 527 individuals will be hospitalized with COVID in the Austin area during the four-month period.
The university has already exceeded these projections, according to its public dashboard. Since Aug. 26, 743 students have tested positive for the disease. A spokesperson said the university does not share hospitalization data.
The University of Texas at Austin has fallen short of its stated goal of testing 5,000 asymptomatic community members each week. (UT Austin COVID-19 Dashboard)
In this scenario, the consortium expects hospitalizations to peak at around 157.
For context, there are currently 84 people hospitalized with COVID in the five-county Austin metro. The peak number of hospitalizations occurred in mid-July, during the surge, when 492 people in the metro were hospitalized due to the disease.
Nearly 500 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Austin metro in mid-July, during the surge. (Rational Anarchy/Reddit)
Under a more severe scenario, which assumes a higher transmission rate among students and a moderate transmission rate community-wide, the researchers expect 19,675 students to be infected and approximately 8,188 individuals will be hospitalized over the same period.
In this case, the consortium expects hospitalizations to peak at around 942, or nearly double the number seen at the peak of the surge.
"Austin has an estimated COVID-19 hospital capacity of 1,500 beds, not accounting for potentially reduced capacity during influenza season," according to the report. "[S]tudent-to-student transmission can amplify the strain on Austin healthcare systems and increase the risk that COVID-19 cases will exceed local resources."
UT Austin can slow the spread of the virus among students—"and minimize spillover into the surrounding community"—by prohibiting large gatherings and providing rapid testing and contact tracing resources, the researchers wrote.
While the university has said it will test 5,000 asymptomatic community members a week, it has fallen short of this goal. Since classes began in late August, it has tested an average of 1,758 a week.
In an update provided on Monday, the university said it has not been able to meet this threshold because of federal and state health information laws that prevent it from mandating testing.
Why doesn't @UTAustin make testing mandatory? Why isn't UT performing the advertised >5,000 tests per week? A UT F… https://t.co/u2ovklHfS3— Andrew Zhang (@Andrew Zhang) 1601308593.0
"The answer, in part, is that we have fewer than 5,000 people a week who have been willing to take the tests," according to the university's faculty council.
While UT has prohibited parties on and off campus, it has not prohibited large gatherings. Earlier this month, more than 15,000 people attended the Texas Longhorns' first home game of the season. The university required student attendees to be tested prior to admission into the stadium; of the 1,198 students who were tested, nearly 8%—or 95—received positive results.
The next home game is on Oct. 3, when the Longhorns will face off against Texas Christian University. The 100,000-person Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will be limited at 25% capacity, although local health officials have repeatedly cautioned against attendance even with the capacity limits.
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- San Marcos favorite Industry Burger opens "mid-October" on E. 5th, featuring "low key healthy" Texas fare.
- Still Austin Whiskey Co. introduces "The Artist," its new rye whiskey.
- Domain NORTHSIDE favorites Bakery Lorraine, Grimaldi's Pizzeria, Jeni's Ice Cream and Sprinkles released their fall flavors.
- Cinnaholic at The Arboretum opens Friday, October 14, serving "create your own" cinnamon rolls and other sweet treats.
- San Francisco's Marufuku Ramen opens next Wednesday, October 12, in the Mueller District.
- Carpenter Hotel announces its popup food truck, Lil Carpenter, open Fri-Sun both ACL weekends, serving what you want, early to late, coffee to donuts, to dogs/burgers/fries/beer.
With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.
Artists and music lovers are set to pack into Zilker Park for The Austin City Limits Music Festival in the coming two weekends. Following that, Formula One will bring racing fans to the Circuit of the Americas.
For those two events, the airport is anticipating high passenger days with 30,000 or more people departing flights.
ABIA recommends arriving at least two and a half hours in advance for domestic flights on those days. For ACL, it's expected on both Sundays of the festival along with the Monday and Tuesday after. The F1-driven high passenger days are expected on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 23-26.
\u201c#AustinCityLimits visitors, you\u2019re in for a weird and wild ride \ud83e\udd18\u262e\ufe0f \n\nFlying in or out of our airport? We got firm and fun tips for you: https://t.co/RawVRalOXN\u201d— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)) 1664894083
F1, especially, could draw in loads of travelers as the three-day event saw 400,000 attendees last year. ABIA warns that highways leading to the airport may see even higher traffic than usual around the event and that travelers should plan their route accordingly.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, said travel numbers come in 24 hours in advance. So, it's hard to predict if the airport will see travel volumes at the same levels that have happened around previous F1 races or if it'll top ACL's flight traffic.
Still, she says historical knowledge points to a chance for it.
“We've had that Monday after F1 break the record for single busiest in airport history," Grimmett said. "So context clues I would say yes, but I can't confirm that. But the historical background points to that."
In anticipation of the high volume of flyers, the airport received additional TSA officers for security screening through the end of October. To prepare even further, the Department of Aviation and partners hosted a job showcase and hiring fair to address the continued labor shortage the airport has experienced.
Relief from hectic travel days is on the horizon with November likely to see a slowdown.
"I don't anticipate it will be as busy as October just because we don't have as many events going on," Grimmett said. "Thanksgiving is kind of our primary holiday that we see a lot of passengers coming in and out of the airport."