AUSTIN, Texas - As U.S. COVID-19 cases climb just days ahead of Thanksgiving and weeks out from the winter holidays, Dr. Spencer Fox of the UT COVID-19 modeling consortium says his team is “worried.”
“I think a lot of public health officials and experts were hoping that we could suppress the virus as low as possible before the holiday, knowing that the holidays would likely contribute and increase spread across the country. So I think that we’re entering the holidays in a very scary place,” he said.
In Austin, Fox says his team is seeing “troubling signs that the pandemic is growing,” adding, “we’ve seen a doubling of hospital admissions in the past two weeks or so.”
In a briefing Tuesday, Interim Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said 13 COVID-19 positive patients had been transferred into Austin hospitals from other jurisdictions “primarily El Paso and other jurisdictions in West Texas.” Escott said patients had also been transferred into Austin for other medical needs “because there is no capacity for any patients in the ICU” in their hometown.
Fox says the team's model suggests that “this really large resurgence” in El Paso is beginning to slow down, but the data they are using makes him skeptical. The research team uses hospital admission and anonymized cellphone GPS data to track social distancing and generate projections.
“We know that we generally track the pandemic through hospitalization data and we don’t necessarily have the full knowledge of how many patients are being transferred outside of El Paso to other areas,” he explained.
Fox says the “synchronized” nationwide surge could have “devastating effects” on healthcare capacity. “What that means is regions won’t be able to share healthcare staff or capacity and so this is really potentially a perfect storm," he said.
He says there are a number of theories as to why cases are rising nationwide, but that we likely will not have a concrete answer “for years.”
He says the most important thing is that Americans hunker down and follow restrictions that are already in place, such as masking and social distancing until a vaccine is rolled out.
“I hope that people can see that the end is coming close and that we shouldn’t let up.”