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COVID-19

Austin Health Officials Revising COVID Risk Guidance In Response To Speed Of Delta Spread

A sign by a telephone pole says, "Walk Up Free Vaccine."
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Austin Public Health warns that if residents don't wear masks and get vaccinated to help stop the spread of COVID-19, coronavirus cases could overwhelm the area's hospital system.

Austin Public Health is considering new community guidance as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations put the area within the threshold of the agency's highest risk level.

For now, the area remains at Stage 4, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes told Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council members Tuesday.

She said changes to guidance would be coming soon, though, because of the troubling speed and ease with which the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading.

“Everyone, everywhere has to wear a mask and get vaccinated, because we’re all in this together," Walkes said. "If we don’t do this then we’re looking at overwhelming our hospital systems.”

“The choice now becomes vaccination or a ventilator for our young people who may have been stubborn about going to get that vaccine."
APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes

The Austin area reported nearly 700 new COVID cases on Monday afternoon, as well as 62 new admissions to area hospitals. The seven-day rolling average for daily hospitalizations was at 61 on Monday; last week that number was 37.

“ICU admissions are startling in that we have a lot more people now who are admitted to hospital who are under the age of 50," Walkes said. "And unlike [during] other surges, they are people without any chronic illness or comorbidities who are coming in severely ill requiring ICU care, requiring ventilators."

Nearly 81% of people hospitalized in the area have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Walkes said people “under the age of 40 and as young as 19” are requiring intense treatment to help them fight off the virus.

“The choice now becomes vaccination or a ventilator for our young people who may have been stubborn about going to get that vaccine,” she said. “We need to now spend time talking one-on-one and educating people about vaccine safety.”

The area has reported around 1,500 breakthrough cases of COVID-19, Walkes said, adding that the number is surely underreported. Still, she said, that's a tiny sliver of the more than 800,000 vaccine doses administered in the area and suggests getting vaccinated protects people against severe illness.

Walkes said those who have not been vaccinated should avoid gatherings and travel and should make use of curbside or delivery options if possible. Those who have been vaccinated are urged to wear a mask, avoid gatherings if they have a medical condition and to encourage others to get the shot.

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

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