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Adler Says Enforcing Mask Wearing And Distancing Is Crucial As COVID Hospitalizations Rise In Austin

Patrons sit outside at a brewery last month after Texas eased restrictions.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Mayor Steve Adler says he's concerned that if Austinites don't wear masks and maintain social distance, coronavirus cases will continue to rise and hospitals could be overwhelmed.

A record 29 people were admitted to the hospital in the Austin area for COVID-19 on Friday, bumping up the seven-day average for new hospital admissions to 17.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler says everyone in the community should be mindful of that number. Austin-Travis County needs to stay under an average of 19 admissions per day to avoid straining the health care system.

Austin Public Health is also using the figure to determine what stage of risk-based guidelines people should follow. If the seven-day average exceeds 20, the city will move into stage 4 restrictions.

Mayor Adler spoke with KUT about expanding the city's stay-at-home order and his concerns about overwhelming local hospitals.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

KUT: The current stay-at-home order is set to expire Monday, June 15. You said earlier this week that you're planning to expand that. Can you tell us about the new order?

Mayor Steve Adler: I think the new order is going to look a lot like the old order. At this point, we're getting precariously close to the 20 number for average daily hospital admittances over a seven-day period of time. People really need to focus on maintaining masks and doing the 6-foot distancing. We have more and more people that are straying from that, which is one of the reasons why the numbers are going up.

So I think we just have to re-urge people to do that more. We have to talk about it more. But it's not so much a function of the orders, because whether or not our community does this is really up to individual choices. Each of our individual actions add up to a collective action. So we're going to let people understand better the numbers that we're seeing.

I think everyone is so wanting to be able to continue opening up the economy. But if we're gonna be able to do that and be able to sustain it without overwhelming hospitals, then we're going to need better discipline in wearing facemasks, maintaining the 6- foot distancing, getting tested, not going out if we're not feeling well.

KUT: Yesterday, the seven-day average for new hospital admissions was 13. [As of Friday,] it's just under 15. (Note: This interview was conducted before the latest numbers were released Friday evening.) If we do reach that stage 4 threshold – a seven-day average of 20 new hospitalizations – what kind of restrictions could you put in place given that the governor has seemed to relax some statewide restrictions?

Adler: Well, ultimately if we get to that place, we'll be appealing to the governor to either enforce his recommendation that people wear face masks and maintain the 6-foot distancing. Or if he won't enforce it, to give local jurisdictions the ability to be able to enforce those provisions in our orders.

Somebody is going to have to enforce those provisions and convince the community that it's actually serious and it's real, or else that number is going to continue to increase, the number of hospitalizations will continue to increase. And then we're going to have to take more drastic action in terms of restraining the opening of the economy or we'll overrun the hospitals.

KUT: As we're seeing these increases of COVID cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions in Austin-Travis County, is your office having frequent communication with the governor's office?

Adler: I wouldn't say frequent communications, but we are in touch with the governor's office and I will continue to share this information with them. If we pass 20 [hospitalizations] for a seven-day period, I would think that the county judge and I would take more active action vis-a-vis the state again to ask either that they enforce their recommendation or that they let that local governments in different parts of the state make their own determination as to whether there should be enforcing or not.

KUT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Adler: Now would be the time for people to go to their doctors for physicals or for elective surgeries or for checkups. Now would be the time to go. We have space in our hospitals and it's safe to go.

I'm concerned that down the road, if we keep going the way we're going, we're going to have more and more COVID patients in the hospital. And I don't want people putting off care or attention, so I'm urging everybody to go now if they're thinking that there's something that they should be doing.

This story has been updated with the latest hospitalization figures.

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Jerry Quijano is the local All Things Considered anchor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.
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