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COVID-19

Deaths From COVID-19 Are On The Rise In Travis County. Twelve Were Reported Thursday Alone.

Signs in English, Spanish and Vietnamese mark the location of a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Cristo Rey Church in July.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Signs in English, Spanish and Vietnamese mark the location of a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic this summer at Cristo Rey Church.

As the delta variant continues to spread and stretch hospital capacity, Travis County health officials are reporting more COVID-19 deaths per day than usual.

Austin Public Health says 36 people died from the disease over the last week. On Thursday alone, 12 deaths were reported. Before the recent surge, there had only been a few deaths per day — one or two, sometimes none.

“Those deaths weigh heavy on my mind because there’s so much that we can do,” APH interim Director Adrienne Sturrup said during a news conference Friday. “We know what works. We’ve proven it. Masking, social distancing, avoiding large crowds, washing your hands, staying home when you’re sick … and more importantly being vaccinated.”

Part of the reason for this rise in deaths is the delta variant, which can cause severe disease and is more transmissible than the original virus, according to Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes.

“The deaths and the numbers of deaths that we are seeing right now are a result of the fact that we are in a surge and our ICUs are full,” she said.

As of Thursday, there were 212 people in ICUs in the five-county region. This exceeds the area’s 200-bed capacity, but health care providers have been stretching their resources to meet the demand.

Watch Friday's news conference below:

As the Labor Day weekend approaches, Austin Public Health is urging people to take precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. That means wearing a mask in public (even if vaccinated), social distancing in crowds of people you don’t know and getting vaccinated if you haven’t already, Walkes said.

Last year at this time, Austin wasn’t experiencing a surge like this. Travis County was seeing fewer than 200 cases per day and fewer than 20 new hospitalizations per day; now, it’s seeing more than 500 new cases and around 70 new hospitalizations per day. Many schools were starting the semester virtually and pushing back the start date until after Labor Day. The highly transmissible delta variant was also not spreading at the time.

Now, with school in full swing and not every district requiring masks, health officials are urging people to be extra cautious. APH officials warn those traveling this weekend that there is high transmission of the virus across the U.S.

APH’s Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette laid out protocols for people who do travel: Fully vaccinated people should self-monitor for symptoms when they return home, and if they have symptoms, they should get tested as soon as possible. Unvaccinated people should get a test before traveling (some locations require a negative test upon arrival). And when they return, they should get tested three to five days later, and quarantine for a full seven days — even if the test came back negative.

“If they choose not to get a viral test, they need to quarantine for a 10-day period,” Pichette said.

The first UT Austin football game of the season is Saturday at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. Masks and limited capacity are not mandated. The health officials say it’s important for people to wear masks in settings like this, particularly when entering and exiting the stadium, and they urge people to stay home if they have any symptoms.

Tailgates are another concern.

“The tailgating parties are the places where we’re really, really concerned that there may be transmission,” Walkes said. “Those are situations where people will be close together, in close contact, congregating, likely unmasked and for long periods of time.”

She said people who aren’t vaccinated and people who are vaccinated but have underlying conditions that put them at risk of severe illness from COVID should avoid these activities.

A little more than 67% of people eligible for the vaccines (people 12 and older) in Travis County are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data. That means about 58% of the total population is vaccinated, Walkes said.

“We still have a large segment of the population under the age of 12 not eligible, so it’s important we protect them by wearing masks,” she said.

Austin Public Health has vaccine clinics open over the weekend. Many other pharmacies and health care providers are also giving out shots. Find a vaccine here.

Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at mcharpentier@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.

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