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COVID Cases And Hospitalizations In Austin Are Going Down, But Health Officials Say It's Too Early To Relax

 A sign outside a store on South Congress Avenue says capacity is limited to 10 people and that masks are optional.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A sign outside a store on South Congress Avenue says capacity is limited to 10 people and that masks are optional.

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New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the Austin area seem to be leveling off, but the city's medical director says more time is needed to determine how school reopenings will affect virus spread in the community.

Dr. Desmar Walkes told a joint meeting of Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council members Tuesday that Austin Public Health is “cautiously optimistic” about the area’s COVID-19 data trends.

She said new hospital admissions decreased slightly, as did the number of patients in ICUs and on ventilators.

“We’re seeing a plateau in our seven-day moving average [for daily admissions], which we’re happy about,” Walkes said. “However, we do know that our case numbers in schools have gone up tremendously over this past week.”

APH reported 67 COVID clusters in Travis County school districts last week alone, with 817 positive cases and more than 17,000 close contacts identified.

“We have a couple of school districts that have closed entire grades, and we’re really encouraging everyone in our community to protect our children and send them to school masked,” Walkes said.

In July and August, there were more than 100 children admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County, she said, including 33 patients who spent time in an ICU.

The local hospital system is still stressed, Walkes said; 220 patients are being treated in intensive care units — 10% above the system’s capacity — and 170 ventilators are being used to help patients fight the virus.

While cases and hospitalizations may be plateauing, previous surges in the pandemic have shown that virus-related deaths tend to follow a few weeks after those other indicators surge.

Five more people died from virus-related illness in the Austin area Monday; Austin Public Health reported 19 deaths linked to the virus last week.

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

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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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