Austin-Travis County crosses stage five COVID-19 guidelines

In a Monday morning briefing, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes expressed concern for the rapidly spreading COVID-19 Delta variant.

"We are concerned about how rapidly the delta variant is spreading in our community," said Walkes. "The Delta variant is a different type of virus that's much more infectious. It's as infectious as chicken pox. And when you have the virus in your body and you're vaccinated, you can pass it on because you have a large amount of it in your system—just as much as someone who's unvaccinated at times."

"We've just passed the threshold to Stage Five," she said.

Although the city has passed this threshold, Austin Public Health has not made the official call. They are still drawing up recommendations for people to follow if we do enter stage five. 

Health officials say they are seeing an increase in pregnant women ending up in the ICU or dying from the virus. Women who contract COVID are also seeing increased complications in pregnancy—like preterm birth, prematurity, and stillbirths. "This new Delta variant is affecting our pregnant moms more severely," said Ehrig.

On Monday, Austin Public Health officials underscored that all pregnant women should get the vaccine—and they say the earlier in the pregnancy a woman is vaccinated, the better.

"We really recommend any of the vaccines. They've all had demonstrated safety, and incredibly important to protect mom and baby, to diminish the amount of admissions, and unfortunately the loss and death that we're seeing," said Dr. Kimberly DeStefano, Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David’s.

"They are more likely to end up hospitalized, they are more likely to end up with disease and more likely to end up in the ICU," said Dr. Jessica Ehrig with Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Temple.

ICU beds are also filling up. The city said that right now for the 11-county trauma service area, there are only seven ICU beds open to treat people.

"The ones that are getting really sick and passing away, 99.2 percent of them are unvaccinated," said Dr. Guadalupe Zamora, family medicine doctor who runs a practice in East Austin.

He started letting sick patients come inside the office, but now he is going back to old COVID-19 guidelines and testing people outside. He said unfortunately, he knew this was coming.

"It didn't surprise me, we were expecting it for a while, and we still have those naysayers that don't want to get vaccinated," he said.

Last weekend he received some sad news about a couple he treats. They also declined the vaccine. "Unfortunately they both got the virus and unfortunately we lost the wife this past weekend," said Zamora.

He hopes instead of spreading COVID-19, the community can spread information that could save lives, such as where to get vaccinated.

"Dr. Walkes over at the health department is incredible, she and I were classmates in medical school. She is going to get this virus flattened but we have to listen to her," said Zamora.

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