Health data for the Austin area on Monday showed sluggish progress toward an end to this most recent surge in coronavirus cases. Despite a drop in the number of hospital patients for COVID-19, the disease continues to strain critical care resources.
Hospitalizations for illnesses linked to the coronavirus reached their lowest level in more than a month over the weekend, with a total of 507 patients reported Saturday, 491 Sunday and back up to 509 Monday. The last time the Austin area saw hospitalizations so low was on Aug. 6, when 510 patients were reported.
As hospitalizations for the disease continued to decrease Monday, the number of those needing critical care or ventilators to breathe remained largely unchanged.
On Monday, 217 patients were in Austin-area intensive care units, compared with 212 reported Friday. And 142 patients were on ventilators as of Monday, the same number reported Friday.
On Sunday, just seven adult and four pediatric ICU beds were available for the 11-county trauma service region that includes the Austin metro area, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The region, which serves about 2.3 million people, had reached a pandemic low of zero adult ICU beds Sept. 5 and zero pediatric ICU beds Sept. 4.
Texas health data on Monday showed that the number of hospital patients for COVID-19 in the state had dropped by more than 850 in the past two weeks.
On Monday, 13,065 people were hospitalized in Texas with COVID-19, a decrease from the previous day and an improvement after reaching a summer high of 13,932 last month. The pandemic high was 14,218 Texans hospitalized in January.
The Department of State Health Services reported 319 available staffed ICU beds for adult patients for the entire state, up from 270 on Sept. 9. Although the state had only 104 staffed pediatric ICU beds, that is still many more than the pandemic low of 64 beds reported Aug. 4.
Average of new Austin hospital admissions remains steady, cause of concern
While hospitals in Austin and Travis County remained strained at the start of the week, a key indicator Austin Public Health uses to gauge the coronavirus’ threat to the community got achingly close to a crucial threshold.
Austin Public Health on Monday reported 57 new daily admissions to the hospital, but the rolling seven-day average of new admissions, which the agency uses as a guide for how the most medically vulnerable can protect against the coronavirus, remained at 55.
Austin Public Health is in Stage 5 of the agency’s risk-based guidelines, which range from Stage 1 to Stage 5, with five being the highest threat level for community spread of the coronavirus. The community could be downgraded from this most critical stage if the rolling weekly average of new admissions goes below 50.
If the Austin area can move back to Stage 4, public health leaders say it would be safe enough for fully vaccinated residents who are at high risk of severe symptoms to resume private gatherings, travel, dining and shopping if masked.
The county’s highest average for new daily admissions during the pandemic was 94 on Jan. 9, and it reached as high as 84 on Aug. 11 during this most recent surge.
COVID-19 vaccination urged to help keep strain off Travis County hospitals
Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin’s health authority, during a public briefing last week urged anyone who had not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine to go out and get one, saying the area is very near to reaching its goal of having 70% of qualifying residents fully vaccinated.
On Monday, the Department of State Health Services data showed that 68.7% of Travis County residents who are 12 or older had been fully vaccinated.
“If we can get the people who are eligible vaccinated, we will be better able to protect those who are not yet eligible for vaccination — be that infants, young children, those who are allergic to the vaccines — and that is very important to protecting our public health system,” Walkes said Friday.
“But we also must also step back and look at the bigger picture,” she said. “Consider that Travis County shares a hospital system with 10 other counties, each unique. From a public health perspective, it is critical we continue to protect the ability of our hospitals to care for everyone who needs that care.”