Austin enters new risk stage after COVID-19 hospitalizations spike
Update: As expected, city leaders extended Austin's stay home order to August 15 — the longest extension yet for an order of its kind during the COVID-19 crisis. During the afternoon press conference, officials stressed the importance of wearing a face mask, of avoiding situations where other people are not wearing a mask, and of social distancing. Mayor Adler also called upon businesses, including restaurants, to reduce their capacities despite what is currently ordered by the governor.
Following a dramatic jump in coronavirus-related hospitalizations over the past seven days, Austin is now in stage 4 on the COVID-19 risk chart, a grim milestone in the fight to curb the virus.
On Monday, June 15, according to data from the City of Austin, 30 new COVID-19 patients were admitted into area hospitals, bringing the seven-day average to 20.6 per day. This time last week, Austin was averaging 13 new hospitalizations per day and was sitting at stage 3 on the risk chart. Austin has been at stage 3 since mid-May when the chart was first introduced.
The new hospitalizations are likely the result of both the city and Texas' reopening plan, the latter of which no longer mandates the wearing of face masks. Scientific studies continue to find that, despite American politics turning them a partisan issue, masks are critical in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Recommendations in stage 4 include wearing face masks; practicing social distancing; avoiding travel and social gatherings; and advise that individuals are safe to return to work and dine and shop only at expanded essential businesses (which, in Texas, is a lot of businesses). If Austin continues to see hospitalizations rise, it would return to stage 5 and possible stay home/work safe measures may be reinstated.
On Thursday, June 11, Austin Public Health Medical Director Mark Escott held a virtual press conference with Mayor Steve Adler and Judge Sarah Eckhardt to warn that the city was seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. During the meeting, Adler warned that Austin was reaching a "blinking yellow light," something the mayor reiterated just three days later in a June 14 letter.
"At this point, our blinking yellow warning light is turning orange, which means our hospitals seem to be headed to an overwhelming surge in admissions," he wrote. "We have some decisions to make and trade-offs to consider as we approach the red zone. Make no mistake, we will be seeing more hospitalizations and deaths."
Adler then enlisted the help of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in enforcing masks and social distancing.
The mayor also urged Austin residents to take care of any health-related issues as soon as possible — a potential indicator of what's to come. "If you have been considering getting a physical, having a procedure done, or otherwise going to the hospital, now would be a great time," he wrote, noting that capacity is still available despite the spike in hospitalizations.
Austin's current stay home order is set to expire on June 15 and the city is hosting a 2:30 pm press conference today to discuss any changes. Last week, Adler said the stay-at-home and wear mask orders in the area would likely be extended.
As of today, Austin has 4,545 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 104 deaths. According to the City of Austin dashboard, 129 people are currently hospitalized for the novel coronavirus. Of those 129 patients, 52 were in the ICU and 29 on ventilators.