Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Austin-area COVID-19 hospital data improve over holiday, but critical care remains strained

Heather Osbourne
Austin American-Statesman
People pass a mural urging people to wear masks painted on Marcelino's restaurant in East Austin on July 20. Health leaders last week said all Travis County residents, including those vaccinated against the coronavirus, should return to wearing masks in public to avoid a surge in coronavirus cases as the delta variant continues to spread.

A key indicator that Austin Public Health uses to gauge the coronavirus' threat to the community reached its lowest level in more than a month on Tuesday.

Only 50 new daily admissions to the hospital were reported, which lowered the rolling seven-day average that Austin Public Health uses to help determine how the most medically vulnerable can protect against the coronavirus. The new average, 59, was not only lower than Friday's average of 66 but also the lowest since Aug. 1, when the average was 58. 

More:Travis County COVID-19 hospital admissions average improves, key indicator shows steady decline

Austin Public Health is currently in Stage 5 of the agency's risk-based guidelines, which is the most critical stage and is triggered when the rolling weekly average of new daily hospital admissions reaches 50 or above. The guidelines range from Stage 1 to Stage 5, with five being the highest threat level for community spread of the coronavirus. 

Health officials on Tuesday also reported a total of 540 people in Austin-area hospitals for COVID-19, which was a significant improvement from the 584 needing inpatient care on Friday — and the pandemic record high of 653 patients set two weeks ago on Aug. 25.

The last time the Austin area's COVID-19 inpatient total was this low was on Aug. 8, when 539 people were hospitalized.

Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, continued to urge residents to get vaccinated and wear masks while in public, hoping that those efforts will continue to help bring the number of hospitalizations down.  

"Luckily, we are seeing improvements within our hospital systems, with hospital admissions declining over the last week," Walkes said. "While this is promising, we cannot afford to relax yet and get complacent with our safety."

Walkes' good news about the improving status of local hospital admissions also came with warnings about strained intensive care units. 

The state's 11-county trauma service region that includes Central Texas had no available staffed ICU beds for adults on Sunday, marking the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began that the Austin area ran out of such beds. Just two beds were available on Tuesday.

The trauma service region on Tuesday also had six pediatric staffed ICU beds available, but on Saturday, the region did not have any open staffed pediatric ICU beds.

"Even prior to this point, we know the ICU system has been extremely strained with very limited number of beds and staff," Walkes said. "This is a serious situation that impacts not only COVID-19 treatment, but any critical care treatment needed by patients within our community."

Saturday was not the first time the region ran out of pediatric ICU beds. For three days in August and one day in July 2020 the Texas Department of Health and Human Services also reported zero available staffed pediatric ICU beds in the Austin trauma region. 

More:Central Texas runs out of ICU beds for first time since COVID-19 pandemic began

Austin Public Health leaders on Tuesday said 203 patients were in local ICUs in Travis County, down from 218 on Friday. The county reported 147 people on ventilators, down from as many as 154 on Sunday.

Labor Day effect on pandemic 

As Americans went back to their jobs Tuesday after the Labor Day holiday, the nation hit a new threshold, recording a total of 40 million COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic. 

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows the nation reported about 12 cases for every 100 residents, according to a report from USA TODAY on Tuesday. 

The milestone comes as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread and worries mount about potential surges after the long Labor Day weekend, the USA TODAY report said. An estimated 42.5 million Americans traveled for the holiday to mark the end of summer, according to Arrivalist, a company that tracks travel data. 

More:Biden to unveil new strategy to stop virus spread; Fauci says packing football stadiums isn't 'smart': COVID-19 updates

Walkes on Tuesday said she and her team plan to monitor data in the days following Labor Day, but added that anyone who attended a large gathering or went on vacation over the weekend should watch for coronavirus symptoms. 

"If you do have symptoms or were around anyone who is experiencing symptoms, immediately get tested," Walkes said. "If your results come back positive, quarantine away from others to reduce the possibility of spreading COVID-19 to others around you."

Those who do have symptoms are encouraged to contact their local provider to see if they are eligible for monoclonal antibody therapy at the regional infusion center, which can help reduce the chances of a person experiencing severe symptoms that need hospitalization, according to Walkes. 

Texas Department of State Health Service data on Tuesday reported 78.98% of Travis County residents who are 12 and older have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of those, 68.04% are fully vaccinated. 

Austin Public Health is still trying to reach its goal of having at least 70% of qualifying Austin-area residents fully vaccinated. 

More:Travis County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 61% of people fully vaccinated

Statesman reporter Nicole Villalpando and USA TODAY contributed to this report.