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Austin Leaders Warn About Growing COVID-19 Hospitalization Rate

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Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

After three straight days of triple-digit spikes in the number of new coronavirus cases, officials in Austin say the growing number of hospitalizations is the more concerning upward trend.

The city is currently in stage 3 of its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, which are based on the seven-day average of new hospital admissions. To stay in this stage, Austin-Travis County has to stay under an average of 19 hospitalizations. 

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On Wednesday, there were a record 24 new hospitalizations. That brought the seven-day average to 13, the highest since the pandemic began.

Interim Austin Public Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said the rising hospitalizations are not a result of increased testing, as some have suggested.

“The reflection on new hospitalizations suggests that’s not the case,” he said. “The other thing that suggests it’s not the case is that our percent positive of [COVID] tests has also doubled.”

Escott pointed out additional increases in the number of intensive care unit admissions and the number of ventilators in use. He said the new data show a surge, but not one that is out of control at this point. 

“We’re still at a stage where we can keep it under control, but that’s going to take community action,” he said. 

Speaking at news conference Wednesday, Escott said there’s been an increase in “risk-taking behavior.” He said preventative measures like washing hands, wearing a face covering outside the home and gathering in groups no larger than 10 are key to keeping the economy open.

“We’re being told ... we either have to care about public health or the economy, but we can’t care about both, and that is simply not the case,” he said. “You’re hearing this from a Republican doctor working with a Democratic City Council and Commissioners’ Court. This is not a political issue. This is science.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he’s concerned the area is on the path to surpassing the stage 3 threshold on hospitalizations. 

“I want everyone looking at that [new admission] number every day. Everybody in the community should know whether we’re moving up or down,” he said. “We are in the middle of that range, but headed upwards.”

Adler said he plans to extend the current stay home order, which is set to expire Monday.

Got a tip? Email Jerry Quijano at jerry@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.

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