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COVID-19

Nearly 70% Of Eligible People In Travis Are Fully Vaccinated — But More Needs To Be Done, Officials Say

Students hold out their hands for hand sanitizer.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Students hold out their hands for hand sanitizer after finishing lunch at Summitt Elementary School.

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Nearly 70% of Travis County residents eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines have been fully vaccinated against the disease, a significant milestone that health officials say highlights both the local progress made toward reaching herd immunity and the large number of people who are still vulnerable.

According to state data, 68.29% of people 12 and older in the county have been fully vaccinated.

“Although that milestone is within reach, we still need to redouble our efforts to get people vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes during a news conference Friday.

The number of cases and hospitalizations remain high due to the spread of the delta variant, which has continued to put pressure on the local health care system's resources. Walkes said it’s important to remember people under age 12 are still ineligible for the vaccine and that surrounding counties with lower vaccination rates also use Austin’s hospital systems.

And despite inroads to bring the county's vaccination rate up, the Austin area passed a grim milestone this week. More than 1,000 people in Travis County have now died because of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. On Wednesday alone, 23 deaths were reported. APH typically has reported deaths in the single digits each day.

The health officials clarified on Friday that the deaths reported on a daily basis do not necessarily reflect the number of people who died that day; compiling the numbers takes time and the data can lag. That said, APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette noted that the number of deaths has increased significantly since June.

“We in Austin-Travis County stand to have COVID once again become one of the leading causes of death in our community based on the current projections,” she said. “We hope to turn that around and not make that the case.”

Health officials said deaths typically lag behind the onset of disease by about three weeks. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases began in late July.

Walkes said the highly transmissible delta variant currently accounts for 99% of all COVID-19 cases. She said the variant is causing more severe disease and overwhelming local hospital systems.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined some over the last couple weeks, a trend the health officials hope will continue. But hospitals are still stressed and requesting more staff from the state, Walkes said. About 57 new COVID-19 patients are being admitted to area hospitals each day. And as of Thursday, 549 people were hospitalized with the disease — significantly higher than in June, when fewer than 100 people were in the hospital.

“The people that have been on the frontlines working to care for people who are hospitalized from COVID-19 … have been doing so since last March and are understandably fatigued from the service that they’re providing,” Walkes said. “However, they still show up every day to work. And we as a community need to do our part to protect our hospital systems.”

Health officials urged people to do their part in limiting the spread of disease by getting vaccinated, getting tested when presenting COVID-like symptoms, staying home when sick and wearing masks when in public — even when fully vaccinated.

Walkes urges people who test positive to see if they are eligible for monoclonal antibody therapy, which can significantly reduce one’s need for hospitalization. An infusion center in Austin is providing the service to people who test positive and are at risk of severe illness. Austin Public Health urges people who test positive to call their health care provider to see if they can be referred to the center. Those without insurance can seek a referral from Community Care, People's Community Clinic and Lonestar Circle of Care.

Austin Public Health operates several free vaccine clinics and testing sites. Many other pharmacies and health care providers are also giving out shots and administering tests. Find a vaccine here. Find a testing location here.

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