AUSTIN, Texas - Last week, Austin entered stage five of COVID-19 restrictions. Based on what Austin Public Health is saying this week, the decision to do so was a no-brainer.
"The last week has brought us a worsening situation in Travis County and in many parts of Texas," said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority with Austin Public Health.
With hospital admissions on the rise and ICU space running out, Escott said the projections heading into the new year are looking grim. He said Monday, the city could be entering a state of emergency. He said there has been a 62 percent increase in ICU utlilization over the past week.
"Hospitalizations are currently 365 on average, 404 yesterday....an increase of 67 percent since the first of this month," said Escott.
Escott said with current projections, Austin could run out of ICU beds within one to two weeks. "We have the hospital spaces, we have the equipment, there are plenty of ventilators. The issue is staffing," said Escott.
When the city moved to stage five, it recommended schools cancel extracurricular activities including sports. Escott said he may also recommend going back 100 percent virtual for a couple of weeks if this trend continues.
"The discussion I’ve had with superintendents as well as the TEA is that we would start with transition of high schools to virtual education then middle and elementary schools as a last resort," he said.
The vaccine is rolling out, reaching the populations most in need first, but health officials warn that the public needs to remain vigilant and buy time.
"The vaccine is a tool that we can use as it becomes available, but in the meantime we've got to continue those preventative measures," said Cassandra DeLeon, interim assistant director for Austin Public Health.
Ahead of the new year, APH is reminding all that COVID-19 is very much still around and a threat.
"It is a disease that causes individuals to suffocate progressively over time. We have to decide that now is the time to stop it. Now is the time to protect this community," said Escott.