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COVID Projections Improve For Austin, But Top Doctor Says Things Can Change Just As Quickly

People wear masks while leaving an early voting site in Buda on Monday.
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
People wear masks while leaving an early voting site in Buda on Monday.

A day after issuing a dire warning about COVID-19 hospitalizations in the area if people don’t take protective measures, Austin’s top doctor said Wednesday that modeling projections have improved. 

On Tuesday, projections from the University of Texas Modeling Consortium indicated there was a 100% probability the epidemic was growing. Today, that number was reduced to just 38%. The data now suggest only 200 hospital beds will be needed for COVID-19 patients by the third week in November – down from 700. 

“My take is, that is fantastic. That’s exactly what we want to see,” Austin Public Health’s interim Medical Authority Dr. Mark Escott said. “We’ve talked about the fact that the projections are not a forecast of what will happen; it’s a projection of what could happen if the transmission stays the same as it has been.”

These projections are based on people’s behavior and how well they follow health guidelines like social distancing and wearing masks.

Escott and other public health officials also stressed the risk associated with large gatherings as Halloween and other holidays approach.  

“I would love for you to have a conversation with your family as you're thinking about how we can continue to be safe,” Stephanie Hayden, Austin Public Health director, said. “How we can decide what trips are going to be essential? … What type of plans can you put in place?”

Escott said Austin and Travis County residents had done “a wonderful job” changing traditions for Independence Day and Labor Day. 

“Now we need to do the same for Halloween,” he said.

Escott said there are concerns about coronavirus trends in the area right now, but noted the improved projections are due to lower numbers of COVID hospitalizations over the last few days. 

In September, projections hinted the area could move down to stage 2 COVID restrictions, but Escott said “that was too optimistic.” The area has remained at stage 3 restrictions for almost four months now.

“This is a call to action for Austin and Travis County,” Hayden said. “[Another surge] can be avoided. We can come together as a community… and we can make a decision that we are not going to overrun our hospital systems.”

Speaking to Travis County commissioners Tuesday, Escott said if the area goes through another COVID surge in the coming months, it will take much longer to recover than it did after the initial surge in June and July.

“My hope is that we can avoid another shutdown. We have implemented strategies, and our business communities have been engaged in that process,” Escott said. “We can do things safer than we did back in March and April. But, if the situation worsens, I think it’s right for us to look at how we can reduce risk.”

This post has been updated. 

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

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