Austin Public Health concerned over COVID-19 in schools

Austin Public Health's chief epidemiologist said she is seeing a direct correlation between school districts that mandate masks and others that make it optional.

Austin ISD in total since Aug. 16 has had 268 positive COVID-19 cases, and 1,930 exposures. Although concerning, the city's chief epidemiologist is more concerned about what she's seeing elsewhere.

"In the AISD where they have masking enforced, they are not having the increase in cases that we are seeing in other school districts where masking is optional," said Janet Pichette, chief epidemiologist, Austin Public Health.

She brought up Wiliamson County officials' recent recommendation to shut down schools for ten days, although it didn’t happen.  Leander ISD initially allowed masks to be optional but changed course later. The surge doesn't appear to be waning anytime soon. Austin's top doc says the c.ase count has been surging over the past month due to the spread of the delta variant

"We have exceeded our 200 bed capacity in our ICU’s and we are pushing forward with expansion to accommodate the 239 souls that are now in our ICU’s, 160 plus that are on ventilators," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority.

Doctors are also seeing younger and sicker patients. "Those that are younger, that feel invincible, are not, against this disease," said Cassandra DeLeon, interim assistant director at APH.

DeLeon said as of now, 66 percent of the eligible Austin/Travis County population is vaccinated. This leaves a large segment of the population still vulnerable. With staffing shortages, officials feel this could be a recipe for continuous disaster.

"We have a lot of people that are waiting to be transferred into our system and they cannot be because we do not have beds right now to accommodate them," said Walkes.

Austin Public Health has requested and is receiving help from the state to help with staffing shortages.

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