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COVID in Austin Update (June 23)

Summary

Stay home. Wear a mask. Stay out of the hospital.

First, thanks everyone for reading. I heard from a reader that these posts are your daily reads to catch up about the virus. That’s humbling to me. Thanks.

As a reminder, I try to stay pretty limited to the Austin area, or at least to Texas. I’m not going to usually comment on things said by Dr. Fauci or coming out of the CDC or Washington, DC unless they are immediately applicable to us. National trends (which have been looking good) don’t matter much when the trends aren’t looking good locally. Likewise, reports that “we may have a vaccine by the end of the year” don’t really mean much about what we do today, next week, or next month. If you want to hear about tennis great Novak Djokovic has the virus, look elsewhere 🙂. That said, this is still my site so I have license to break my own rules.

Starting light, and breaking my own rules, the MLB owners are going to force a 60-game season starting in late July. I’m a big baseball fan, but the owners and players have been going back and forth for awhile now—not about whether it is safe to return to play, but about money. Baseball fell out of favor with me after the 1994 strike when little 10-year old Brandon was heartbroken that his Rangers were actually doing relatively well, but the season was axed. I’m not very forgiving about long contractual battles.

Anyhow, there has been a lot of back and forth and the owners are exercising a clause that basically allows them to just determine the season.

Of course, if you look at some of the states that aren’t looking great right now—Texas, Florida, Arizona, California—they are home to 10 of the 30 teams. I’m not getting my hopes up that I’ll have anything more than the Korean Baseball League to watch this year.

Let’s jump into the state roundup.

On the State level, another record-setting day. We broke 5,000 new cases today for the first time—5,489. Previous high was Saturday’s 4,430. For the 12th day, we’ve set a hospitalization record at 4,092.

For those that want some other stats to chew on that helps us to know if we should be worried or not, there’s the Rt value.

You’ve may have heard earlier about R0, pronounced “R-naught”. This value indicates the virus’ potential reproductive rate. A rate of 1 means that for every person who has the virus, they will give it to one other person. In that situation, we’d never get rid of the virus, but it won’t spike up either. If it under 1, then, eventually and slowly, the virus will go away. If it is over 1, we start looking at more rapid increases of count.

Rt is the effective reproductive rate at a given time. This value takes into account what’s actually happening right now with our masking, social distancing, et al proceedures.

There’s a handy site—rt.live—that displays the Rt value for each state. For more about the value, they have a nice FAQ.

For Texas:

The high off-the-chart value earlier is due to a few things:

  • No measure to curb the spread.
  • Few known cases and the ones we know about spread a good number.

With our stay-at-home measures, we went below 1 and were in a good place. With reopening, we’re started increasing again.

On the schools’ front, the Texas Tribune found some drafts of new year’s guidance on TEA’s website. It is only a draft, so not going to go too far into it except to say, statewide, few safety things mandated so keep pulse with your local ISD and communicate to them, and the State will allow virtual learning count toward attendance. This is big. State funding depends on attendance, which usually means a butt in a chair on site. If this holds and they will accept real-time or async virtual learning, that will be huge toward local distances being able to be more flexible.

Harris County (Houston) reported that Texas Children’s Hospital is now taking adult patients. As I mentioned in the June 16 update, pediatric beds are considered part of the normal hospital capacity so this isn’t shocking.

If you’d like to dive into the Houston hospitalization numbers more, SETRAC, the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, the entity responsible for coordinating public health/trauma services across that segment of Texas, has a nice dashboard.

Per that site, in Harris County alone, on June 16th there were 238 patients in a general bed and an additional 42 in ICU. Yesterday, 806 were in a general bed and an additional 399 in the ICU. UPDATE (6/25): Looks like I mixed suspected and confirmed census information and was moving too fast See below for the correct information.

Hays County (San Marcos) added another 130, putting them at 2001 total cases.

Williamson County (Round Rock/Georgetown) added 87 (2nd all time after the weekend) for a total of 1,498.

Austin/Travis County released a new set of orders last night that went into effect already. Nothing shocking, but it puts together the active orders into one and clarifies a few things.

Key notes from the latest sets of orders:

  • If you have tested positive OR are awaiting test results, your entire household is ordered to isolate at home and must notify any health provider, in advance, that you are or are potentially COVID positive before going to an appointment. (This is new, I think.)
  • Masks are mandated for everyone over 6 years old (without penalty, see below), except when alone with only your family in a non-common space (e.g. alone in your apartment’s mailroom? You need a mask.), if there is a physical or mental health concern from wearing a mask, if you need to be unmasked for communication with someone who is hearing impaired, when exercising, when you’re eating or drinking, or when you are having something done to your mouth or nose (e.g. dental visit, I presume).
  • Masks are required at city/county facilities. No mask, no access.
  • Masks are required at any business, whether or not it is open to the public or employees only. Penalty for violations is a fine of up to $1000 per day.
  • City deadlines: If you have a deadline with a City permit, it is extended to August 15th.
  • Dining establishments are still suggested to keep a log of in-premises diners.

In short, nothing really different. The clarity that you can unmask to eat or to have your teeth cleaned is nice. I’m sure there were a couple of dentists worried about getting a fine.

If you see a business not requiring masks, you can call 311 to report to Code Enforcement. If you are a business and someone will not leave after you told them they had to have a mask, you can call 911. I suppose it becomes a trespass issue at that point.

On the data front, Austin Public Health released a graphic about new cases:

A lot of young people! Per Dr. Mark Escott, this same demographic data is being seen with hospital admissions too. This may not be as fatal for younger people, but it is still a hell of a virus.

Austin added 257 new cases, which is high overall, but nothing like the 506 we added on Sunday. Two people died since yesterday.

But, the hospitalizations. We had 56 new hospital admissions today. Let me say that again for those in the back. WE HAD 56 NEW HOSPITALIZATIONS TODAY. The previous high (that I have; I have incomplete data until recently) was 36. Our 7-day rolling average is 39.3. Remember, an average of 20 was the big demarcation line we were trying to stay under 9 days ago.

Total hospitalizations jumped to 236. We have 94 people in the ICU with 34 of them on vents. I estimated we could probably be okay with ~150 Covid ICU patients, but I said that a week ago when we were only at 59.

That is, speaking of, one thing Austin Public Health is pushing for. Apparently, there isn’t a clear pipeline for regular hospital data into the county. They are getting Covid numbers, but overall bed availability, they don’t have the insight on that they’d like, namely from the private hospitals. This is why you haven’t heard anyone in Austin/Travis County mention hospital capacity because our health officials do not have confidence in the data to share.

I’m going to scream into a pillow for a moment.

It blows me away that there isn’t some better reporting systems in place. Each county publishes numbers a little bit differently. Often, there are slightly different definitions of things, namely state-by-state. The CDC is often pretty far behind with data, which surprised me when I first started caring about public health, but after trying to put together these updates for a couple weeks now… I struggle just with the local area. I digress.

In any event, seeing our hospitalization number never hit 100 until June 10th and sits now at 236 is sobering. Seeing our ICU numbers basically stay sub-40 through the entire pandemic until recently and hitting 94.

The notable part to me is—this isn’t old people anymore. In the beginning, this virus was tearing apart nursing homes across the country. I think we aren’t seeing record deaths in part because nursing homes are doing a better job managing this than they did in March.

The new cases, the hospitalizations, and the ICU demographics are shifting younger now.

Even Governor Abbot today said stay home unless you had to leave.

As always, wear a mask, stay home, be safe.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

5 replies on “COVID in Austin Update (June 23)

I went to the SETRAC link you provided as your source, and the numbers you quoted for Harris County (below) are not accurate. Please correct.
“Per that site, in Harris County alone, on June 16th there were 238 patients in a general bed and an additional 42 in ICU. Yesterday, 806 were in a general bed and an additional 399 in the ICU.”

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