With Covid-19 cases skyrocketing exponentially and intensive care unit capacity in hospitals dwindling to single digits, officials in the Austin area are warning of “catastrophe” as Texas again becomes an epicenter of the pandemic.
The entreaty comes mere days after Austin Public Health elevated its risk-based guidance to stage 5, the highest possible tier.
“The situation is critical,” Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis county’s health authority, said in a statement. “Our hospitals are severely stressed and there is little we can do to alleviate their burden with the surging cases.”
The Texas trauma service area that includes Austin only has six available ICU beds, 499 available hospital beds and 313 available ventilators – a stunning dearth of resources for a population nearly 2.4 million strong.
In Austin’s metropolitan statistical area, 510 Covid patients are currently hospitalized, 184 are in the ICU, and 102 are on ventilators.
“Hospital bed availability and critical care is extremely limited in our hospital systems, not just for Covid-19 patients, but for anyone who may need treatment,” Walkes said. “The community has to come together again and stave off disaster.”
As a whole, Texas currently ranks second behind Florida for the highest daily average Covid-19 cases, with infections up 134% over the last 14 days. And between early February and mid-July, roughly 99.5% of Texans who died from the virus were unvaccinated, the Texas Tribune reported.
In Austin’s Travis county, almost 64% of kids and adults 12 and older are fully vaccinated, compared to about 53% statewide. But in some neighboring counties and suburbs, vaccination rates are even lower than the state average.
Recently, San Antonio’s Bexar county had its daily average caseload jump by more than 300%, according to the New York Times. And infections are also surging in Houston’s Harris county, where only about 56% of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated and the 14-day average test positivity rate is a whopping 17.7%.
Meanwhile, local officials who want to implement proven public health measures to mitigate the spread have been hamstrung by Texas governor Greg Abbott, who has implemented a sweeping order restricting vaccine and mask mandates.
But some public servants, like Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, have simply defied Abbott’s order despite threats of retribution.
“The governor is preventing the city from keeping kids and adults safe,” Austin city council member Alison Alter told the New York Times. “He’s going to have a lot of deaths on his hands here. This is a matter of life and death for our community.”