At Threshold of Stage Five COVID Precautions, ICU Bed Capacity Is Critically Low

Health Authority Desmar Walkes: "We are running out of time"

A vaccine clinic at Guerrero Thompson Elementary School in May (photo by Jana Birchum)

Tonight Austin Public Health issued a dire message to the people of Austin and Travis County: We must all act now in the interest of public health before Central Texas runs out of ICU beds.

Health officials’ plea for the community to follow local health recommendations comes as the seven-day moving average for COVID hospitalizations reaches the qualifying threshold of 50 new admissions for Stage 5 – the highest level of the local COVID-19 Risk-Based Guidelines. The last – and only – time Austin and Travis County reached Stage 5 was during the deadly winter surge in January that saw record-breaking highs for new cases, ICU admissions, positivity rate, and deaths, among other metrics.

Now, Austin finds itself in the midst of another, alarmingly rapid surge. The number of COVID patients in local ICUs increased 28% between July 23-30, with the number of patients on ventilators increasing 38%.

As of July 29, COVID-19 patients accounted for nearly 10% of the Central Texas region’s total hospital capacity, according to data being tracked by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Also known as Trauma Service Area O – a region which includes Travis and 10 surrounding counties – Central Texas’ hospitals now only have 16 staffed ICU beds available to serve some 2.3 million residents.

“We are running out of time and our community must act now,” said Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes. “Our ICU capacity is reaching a critical point where the level of risk to the entire community has significantly increased, and not just to those who are needing treatment for COVID. If we fail to come together as a community now, we jeopardize the lives of loved ones who might need critical care.”

Locally, and as is the case nationally, unvaccinated individuals account for the overwhelming majority of new COVID cases and those being hospitalized – despite the fact that vaccines are more available now than ever before. Only 63% of Travis County’s vaccine-eligible residents (those age 12 and older) are fully vaccinated – a rate that has left the community vulnerable to new variants of the disease, said APH, including the highly transmissible and potentially more lethal Delta variant.

Recommendations from APH for the public to immediately follow include:

Vaccinated individuals should choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, returning to social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distancing and wearing masks indoors.

Partially or unvaccinated individuals should avoid gatherings, travel, dining, and shopping and instead choose curbside and delivery options. Wear a mask when conducting essential activities.

As a reminder, COVID-19 vaccinations are free and require neither identification nor insurance. Locate providers in your area using vaccines.gov, or text your Zip Code to 438829 (822862 in Spanish) to find a nearby clinic.  Below you’ll find a list of pop-up vaccine clinics available to all eligible individuals without registration or appointments this weekend, Sat.-Sun., July 31-Aug. 1.

Saturday, July 31

Travis County Expo (Travis County)
• Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Address: 7311 Decker Ln.
• Vaccine: Pfizer (12 years and up), Johnson & Johnson (18+ years only)

Del Valle High School – Opportunity Center (Travis County/APH)
• Time: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Address: 5301 Ross Road, Del Valle
• Vaccine: Pfizer (12 years and up), Johnson & Johnson (18+ years only)

Dailey Middle School (Travis County)
• Time: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Address: 14000 Westall St.
• Vaccine: Pfizer (12 years and up), Johnson & Johnson (18+ years only)

Montopolis Flea Market (APH)
• Time: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
• Address: 1313 Montopolis Dr.
• Vaccine: Pfizer (12 years and up), Moderna, Johnson & Johnson (18+ years only)

Emancipet Onion Creek (APH)
• Time: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
• Address: 6904 Shady Cedar Dr.
• Vaccine: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson (18+ years only)

Southeast Library (APH)
• Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Address: 5803 Nuckols Crossing Rd.
• Vaccine: Moderna (18+ years only)

Little Walnut Creek Library (APH)
• Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Address: 835 W. Rundberg Ln.
• Vaccine: Moderna (18+ years only)

Turner Roberts Recreation Center (APH)
• Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Address: 7201 Colony Loop ​​
• Vaccine: Pfizer (12 years and up)

JD’s Supermarket – FM 812 (Travis County)
• Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Address: 9111 FM 812
• Vaccine: Pfizer (12 years and up), Johnson & Johnson (18+ years only)

JD’s Supermarket – Cameron (Travis County)
• Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Address: 8807 Cameron Rd.
• Vaccine: Pfizer (12 years and up), Johnson & Johnson (18+ years only)

Sunday, Aug. 1

Travis County Expo (Travis County)
• Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Address: 7311 Decker Ln.
• Vaccine: Pfizer (12 years and up), Johnson & Johnson (18+ years only)

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Austin Public Health, Stage 5, COVID-19, Desmar Walkes, ICU bed capacity, Trauma Service Region O

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