Public Notice: Our COVID Problem, in Two Charts

Why we’re not leaving Stage 5 any time real soon


You may have seen this chart before; the daily rate of new hospitalizations is the most-publicized metric for measuring the COVID-19 epidemic. It's what Austin Public Health has made the "key indicator" (though not the only one) for determining our local risk-based guidelines for masking, allowing gatherings, etc. The three spikes represent the pandemic's three surges. In recent days we've fallen below 50 hospitalizations a day, which should put us back into Stage 4, except ...


The daily count of the number of patients in intensive care has always lagged behind the new hospitalizations curve, but with the Delta variant hitting unvaccinated people particularly hard, patients are "sicker and staying in the hospital longer," so ICUs remain completely full. Look at the difference between the upper right corner of these two curves. That's where we are now.

I'm sorry – I know we're all aching to be done with this, and get back to our normal lives, and perhaps you've seen news about how new hospitalization rates have been going down, and getting your hopes up. Well, sorry to burst you bubble, but take a look at those charts on the facing page, and then read on ...

The city of Austin and Travis County sent out a joint media statement early this week, emphasizing that while "Recent headlines have indicated a downward trend in COVID-19 cases in our community," that's far from the whole story. "Unlike previous COVID surges, all of the acute care hospitals were very full with non-COVID care when this surge started," and "ICUs across the Austin area are now completely full." About 90% of hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated, and they're generally "sicker and staying in the hospital longer. ...

"Sadly, the mortality rate for hospitalized patients is higher for this COVID surge ... and is now approaching 10%. We are seeing an alarming number of other­wise young and healthy patients, including pregnant patients, develop severe COVID symptoms." In other words, while the rate of new hospitalizations may have started to fall, the number of hospitalized patients is not following suit as of yet, and the medical outcomes are worse than they've been in the past. Not good.

The statement concludes with a plea on behalf of the city health department and the medical community (emphasis theirs): "We want to continue to provide lifesaving care for patients who have a heart attack, a stroke, or are injured in a car wreck. To do that, we need your help. To make sure our hospitals have enough space to care for our community – including you and your loved ones who may unexpectedly need hospital care – we urge you to get your COVID-19 vaccine, wear a mask and practice physical distancing. Please do your part to cut down on the number of COVID cases in our community, and help us care for you."


The deadline for comments on the Capital Express Central project – TxDOT's massive rebuild of I-35 through Downtown – is this Friday, Sept 24; submit your comments through the project website, capexcentral.mobility35openhouse.com, or by email to capexcentral@txdot.gov. Travis County Commis­sion­ers have already had their say, with all five of them signing a letter to TxDOT asking for a change of direction from "two very similar plans that, unfortunately, do not emphasize the need to prioritize transit, safety, or fully unite East and West Austin ... As you move forward with future plans for I-35, we would encourage your thoughtful further review of a significantly different alternative from the two presented as the need is great to right the wrongs of an unsafe and divided I-35."

Then next Thursday, Sept. 30, 6-8pm, once the public comment period is safely over with, TxDOT will hold a "virtual public engagement meeting" on Zoom, to provide updates on community feedback, and explain why they're not going to consider any of it – in particular the "Community Alternatives" presented by Reconnect Austin, Rethink 35, and Downtown Austin Alliance. RSVP required.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro at austinchronicle.com.

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