AUSTIN, Texas - City and county leaders are taking an even closer look at the number of COVID-19 hospital admissions because of new guidelines that will determine whether the city should increase or decrease restrictions on the public and economy.
“We've been working to identify key measures to indicate the need to transition between stages, either a more restrictive stage or a less restrictive stage,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority.
On May 28, Austin Public Health and local leaders discussed the key indicators for the various stages in the city's risk-based guidelines. Leaders have put a strong focus on the average hospital admission and preventative measures as keys to continuing to reopen the local economy while avoiding an overwhelming surge at area hospitals.
Local leaders are stressing the importance of keeping new COVID-19 hospitalizations to under 20 admissions a day. The recommended thresholds use data focused on average hospital admissions in the Austin - Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area.
"Understanding whether the 7-day average hospital admission number is moving up or down is critical in understanding what preventive actions to take and to avoid our hospitals from experiencing an overwhelming surge in cases." the city said in a press release.
“If we exceed the capacity, we're going to experience excess deaths. This means that we run out of hospital spaces, ventilators, ICU beds together caring for people not only for COVID-19 but for anything else,” said Dr. Escott.
Earlier in May, APH published a color-coded chart to help residents in Austin understand the stages and risks of COVID-19 as well as recommendations on how to stay safe.
"Austin has done a great job of flattening the curve, but we have to continue those efforts to protect ourselves, to protect Austin, and protect Texas," said Escott. "We need to protect both public health and the economy - if we go out, let's do it safely so we can keep and grow both."
According to the city, the risk stages system illustrates the regression and progress of several crucial diseases, health care, and public health factors. "These indicators will inform recommendations on the tightening or loosening of restrictions on mass gatherings, business operations, and other safety measures in the months ahead," a press release from the city said.
(City of Austin)
Stage 1 (Green): Zero (0) new COVID-19 hospital admissions in a 7-day period
Stage 2 (Blue): Average of less than 5 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in 7-day period
Stage 3 (Yellow): Average of 5-19 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in a 7-day period
Stage 4 (Light Orange): Average of 20-70 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in a 7-day period
Stage 5 (Dark Orange): Average of 70 or more new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in a 7-day period
Dr. Escott says stage one, the green stage, is where we want to be. “[Stage 1] would be zero admissions on that seven-day moving average for hospitalizations. Stage 2 would be less than five admissions. Stage 3 is that 5 to 19,” he said.
Stage 3 is where Austin Travis County currently is at. Since March, we have been fluctuating between 8 and 9 hospitalizations per day. APH recommends individuals at high risk for the illness shelter-in-place and telecommute or be reassigned to non-public facing roles.
“Stage 4 would be 20 to 70 new admissions on that seven-day moving average, and Stage 5 would be greater than 70,” said Dr. Escott.
The city continues to recommend that individuals with a lower risk for serious infections should continue to minimize their interactions with people outside of their household.
At all levels, APH continues to urge the community to:
- Practice social distancing
- Wear fabric face coverings in public
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Wash hands often
- Avoid touching your face
- Clean commonly touched surfaces
“If our community wants to maximize the chances for successfully reopening the economy, then we each have to do our part — individuals and businesses — to keep daily hospitalizations from reaching 20 per day,” said Mayor Steve Adler. “We do this by rigorously following six-foot social distancing, wearing face masks, and getting tested and staying at home if you’re not feeling well. How important is it to us to maintain opening up the economy? We get to decide by our actions."
Adler says people can keep patients to a minimum if they social distance and, more importantly, wear a mask.
“The only penalty we can now bring for failure to wear a face-covering is that more people are going to get sick and some of them will die. It's the penalty that we impose on one another and we pose on ourselves to keep everyone safe,” said Adler.
Dr. Escott says either this weekend or early next week, people will be able to see the number of active cases as a separate number on the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 page.
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