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'What We're Doing Right Now Is Not Working': Austin Expected To See Record Hospitalizations Due To COVID

Cars lined for drive-thru testing at the CommUnityCare Hancock Clinic during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A health care worker passes cars lined for drive-thru COVID testing at the CommUnityCare Clinic in the Hancock Center. The Austin area is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that will likely increase as a result of holiday celebrations.

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Austin-area hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 admissions, and health officials expect them to exceed capacity as soon as next week.

Austin Public Health's interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said the area could hit 115 COVID-related hospitalizations Tuesday – the highest single-day – and that's before a likely increase as a result of Christmas and New Year's celebrations.

Hospital admissions related to COVID-19 exceeded 15% in the area for the first time Monday. The pace of admissions is expected to continue this week, which could trigger a scaling back of some businesses and elective surgeries, per Gov. Greg Abbott's emergency order.

Most major cities in Texas are already under tighter restrictions, including Lubbock, Amarillo, Abilene, Dallas-Fort Worth, Paris, Longview, Lufkin, Bryan-College Station, Waco, San Antonio, Victoria, Galveston, Laredo and El Paso.

"The entire state is in surge," Escott said in a briefing to Travis County Commissioners. "The entire state is in a state of emergency, and this indicates that we need to have a substantial change in policy to more aggressively mitigate the risk of spread, because what we're doing right now is not working."

The state is in the fourth week of distributing doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Austin has been given roughly 52,000 doses so far, which APH Director Stephanie Hayden said isn't enough.

She said the health authority has been fielding calls from residents looking for the vaccine.

"Most people want the vaccine today, and that is actually a good thing to have, but the challenge is we have a shortage of vaccine," Hayden said. "We don't have vaccine available that we can provide widely in our community."

The state is tasked with distributing vaccines to registered providers – most of whom are private physicians, clinics or pharmacies. APH, which provides services to the five-county region, was given only 1,300 doses.

"It is definitely a supply issue," Hayden said.

At this stage under Texas' vaccine plan, priority is given to people who are classified as either 1A, which includes frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, or 1B, which includes individuals over 65 and anyone over 16 with an underlying condition.

Hayden said the 1B classification "would probably be the majority of the people in Travis County" and expressed concern that private providers aren't required to distribute vaccines to communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

Hayden said APH is working on a website for its patients to register for the vaccine and that the agency is considering large-scale vaccination sites like those that have been set up in Harris County.

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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