Almost all COVID-19 deaths in Travis County have been among people with chronic medical conditions
Nearly all of the Austin and Travis County residents who have died from COVID-19 had at least one underlying medical condition, according to Austin Public Health.
The health department said Tuesday that 95% of the 1,282 people who have died from COVID-19 in the area had a comorbidity. Comorbidities are often long-term conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and cardiac disease. More than half of the people who died had two or more comorbidities, APH says.
These underlying conditions are known to put people at higher risk of developing severe illness if they catch COVID-19.
“Much of our community is at high risk for COVID-19 due to comorbidities. These patients often experience severe symptoms of the virus, which can mean longer hospital stays and death,” Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a press release. “Those who are higher risk must get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible. Wear a mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing.”
Studies show people from racial minority groups often develop chronic medical conditions at younger ages than other groups. That makes them more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19. Hispanic people make up nearly 50% of COVID deaths in Travis County, and Black people make up about 12% — despite making up 34% and 9% of the county's population, respectively.
“The pandemic highlights the healthcare disparity that people of color experience daily,” said Austin Public Health Director Adrienne Sturrup.
The health officials urge people, especially those with chronic illnesses, to get vaccinated and boosted as quickly as possible to protect themselves against COVID-19. About 71% of people eligible for vaccination (those 5 and older) are fully vaccinated in Travis County. So, about a third still are not.
“The protection that we will get from vaccines will help us move to a new stage in this pandemic response,” Walkes said during a meeting with local leaders Tuesday. “It will help us make some changes in our mitigation strategies to allow for relaxation, but for now we need to continue to do what we’re doing with masking.”
The omicron surge is now moving in the right direction and case numbers are decreasing, Walkes said, adding that the decline has correlated with an increase in the number of people wearing masks in public.
“If we can protect ourselves with vaccine and boosting, and particularly when the under 5 vaccination is approved and available and get the rest of our vulnerable populations protected, we will be able to move forward and see the light at the end of this tunnel,” Walkes said.
KUT's Trey Shaar contributed reporting to this story.