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UT researchers warn of full-capacity ICUs, up to 11,000 more hospitalizations without stricter COVID rules

Austin could see several thousand more hospitalizations and full ICU units if stricter COVID regulations are not put into play, according to research at UT. (CC)

Stricter COVID precautions could save the city from over 11,000 COVID-related hospitalizations over the course of about three months, according to a report by University of Texas researchers.


Researchers at UT released an analysis of three possible COVID scenarios on Monday in the wake of a quickly-growing hospitalization rate and the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant. The city is currently in Stage 3 (only unvaccinated recommended to mask) of its risk-based guidelines but announced this morning it wanted residents to take Stage 4 precautions, such as everyone—vaccinated or not—masking. Despite these recommendations, local officials lack the ability to enforce such guidance after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting mask mandates in May.

In the report, it states that if masks are effectively brought back into practice, the city could keep ICU units under capacity and ensure fewer hospitalizations.

Using trending data and vaccination rates, researchers predicted what could happen in the next three months in three scenarios:

  1. If Travis County remains in Stage 3
  2. If Stage 4 is initiated
  3. If around half of residents, including those vaccinated and unvaccinated, adhere to masking guidelines

Staying in Stage 3

According to the report, Austin could see 12,279 new hospitalizations by October if new guidelines are not put in place. That would give the city a dire 87% chance of exceeding the city's estimated ICU capacity of 200 beds and a 94% probability of continuing to have a 7-day moving average of 30 new hospitalizations per day.

Stage 4 initiated

If Stage 4 restrictions are enacted, the city could see a 92% drop in hospitalizations and just a 37% probability of exceeding ICU capacity. That is, of course, assuming that both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents comply.

Half of residents masking

Even if just 50% of residents follow stricter guidelines, hospitalizations could still plummet by 65%.

The report is timely: as the Delta variant, which is up to 80% more likely to cause hospitalization, takes the threshold as the top strain in the U.S., APH said moving into Stage 4 is now imminent for Austin-Travis County as of Tuesday afternoon.

Stage 4 guidelines come into play when the city reaches 30 to 50-90 new hospitalizations per a 7-day moving average, depending on the rate of increase. Austin passed the threshold on Monday night.

If Stage 4 is enacted, masking restrictions that many thought were gone for good could return. While they can't be legally enforced per Gov. Greg Abbott's reversal, they could be put back in practice by dozen of Austin businesses that choose to follow the city recommendation.

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