AUSTIN, Texas - Travis County is experiencing a spike in deaths caused by COVID-19.
Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott says hospital systems are now asking for federal and state help with staffing. “As we see infection spread in the community the healthcare workers are not gonna be immune from this," he said.
Escott says staffing is his number one concern, ahead of space, and supplies, explaining that the seriousness of COVID-19 throughout the country, specifically in Texas, could leave Travis County competing for medical professionals with critical care training.
Daily hospital admissions hover around 70, the minimum to push the county into “stage five.” Escott says additional staffing is important for the current situation, and in anticipation of a surge. Confirmed cases, doubling time and daily hospital admissions, recently on an upward trend, have all plateaued.
“We are pleased to see that these numbers are not increasing at the rate they were, but they are not yet declining and again, this is gonna take ongoing commitment from the entire community,” said Escott.
Escott says it is exceptionally important 20 to 49-year-olds make that “commitment.” The age group is currently experiencing the highest number of cases, with 20 to 29-year-olds seeing the greatest number of cases, followed by 30 to 39-year-olds, then 40 to 49-year-olds.
“Part of our immediate strategy is to target these individuals to try to reduce the transmission and hopefully decrease the impact on the older age groups,” he said, explaining that there is currently an increase of people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s being hospitalized in Travis County. “We know that these individuals are at a higher risk for hospitalization and at a higher risk for death.”
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Nursing homes are hard hit with new cases. On Tuesday, Escott said there were 240 new staff and resident cases since last week, when there were 48 new cases, the week prior to that there were 30. Cumulatively there were 471 cases.
Escott says a new state contract promises to bring more testing into the facilities. "We have identified seven facilities that are in need of nursing home or long term care facility strike teams. Four strike teams have been deployed and we are awaiting assignment of personnel for the other three," he said.
Deaths are increasing. Escott attributes this increase to the recent spike in cases among Travis County's elderly population. Last week 53 people died, the week prior, 28, and before that 13, which was about average for the time period. “This is a very concerning trend, we had an over twenty percent increase," he said.
Escott says the county has observed a 27 percent increase in cardiac arrests over the past three months, compared to the same time period last year. It is unclear how much of that is a direct result of COVID-19, as opposed to someone delaying care. The county is now passing out pulse oximeters to measure oxygen levels, offering home testing and additional testing sites, in an effort to make care more accessible.
“We have to be very, very careful right now and again that takes the public's commitment," he said.
He said the county's isolation facility is approaching capacity. County officials are working on executing a contract for a second, and will roll out additional facilities as needed.
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