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COVID in Austin Update (July 1)

The quick two-second report from today: We absolutely need to follow public health advice this weekend. Stay home. Watch fireworks at home.

News

State of Texas

After seeing a number of cases, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department will be testing all staff and juveniles.

“High Unemployment” triggers a longer unemployment window. Usually, Texas will give 26 weeks of unemployment payments, but between the federal efforts and a provision for being in a time of “high unemployment”, folks could see 59 weeks of payments.

Despite studies that say kids aren’t major spreaders, Texas is seeing a jump in kids at day care’s coming down with the virus.

Harris County (Houston): ProPublica and NBC News reported that while Houston-area hospital executives said everything was fine, the situation on the ground was not. The long and short of it from this article and hearing reports from the local ABC station—running out of room and medications in the hospitals, ERs were full of folks waiting transfers to other hospitals, which ended up causing issues where EMS had to regularly wait over an hour to release a patient to the ER.

The Houston Chronicle reported that the Texas Medical Center has exceeded 100% of ICU capacity and is surging by converting regular floors to supplemental ICU floors.

Austin

No ACL

On the upcoming events front, originally scheduled for two weekends in October 2020, the Austin City Limits festival has been cancelled. If you’ve bought wristbands already, check your e-mail. You can keep them for 2021 access or request a refund.

Hospital Capacity

Austin Public Health had a press conference today. I wanted to highlight one particular point to start this topic.

Hospitals are running at about 70% capacity right now—general beds. They usually run at 85%. While the number of hospital beds for COVID patients is increasing, between cancelling elective procedures, fewer accidents (e.g. fewer people are driving, so fewer crashes), etc, we are currently doing okay for general capacity. A lot of what we’re talking about is where we are trending. We are trending to a place where the above is no longer true, but we’re not there yet. We’re still able to change our behavior to change the outcome, but we are running out of time.

KXAN investigated hospital capacity and (like me) wished there was more transparency about it. The reason we don’t know capacity—it’s partly about raw number of beds, but it’s also about staff. There are a few moving pieces, so Travis County and the hospital themselves are being pretty quiet.

Williamson County is at 87% ICU capacity and the article has a hospital-by-hospital breakdown.

For the overall area, the hospital chains say their 483 ICU beds are 80% full, after being at 70% last week. They are not providing hospital-by-hospital breakdowns. KXAN shared some projections suggesting that Dell Seton (UT Medical Center) and St. David’s on 32nd may run out of ICU beds this week. I haven’t seen the site that KXAN cites for these projections used elsewhere, so I don’t have a sense how much credit to give it. From earlier reports, in my head, I had 150 COVID ICU patients as a magic number of when we may be getting into a bad situation.

I think it is fair to say that this is a very fluid situation, we are definitely on the edge, and the more we can do right this second, the better that chance will be that we won’t fall over the edge.

New CHOP Projection

The Policy Lab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia released new projection for cases in Travis County.

The data includes through the weekend and the two zero marks in the chart were days that Austin did not report. I don’t know if they account for the spike following actually being over two days. In any event, assuming nothing changes, we could be seeing 1000 cases per day in Austin by the end of the month by their math. Hopefully closing bars will help flatten that down some.

Robocalls Coming

Local officials will be sending texts and robocalling landlines and registered cell phones alerting everything to play it safe this weekend (e.g. stay home). They are using the Warn Central Texas system which is a collaboration of a number of counties and cities in the local area. I just got my robocall at home (yes, I have a landline) at 4:55 p.m. and my cell phone right at 5:00 p.m.

Data

State of Texas

Today sucks.

In terms of new cases, we blew past yesterday’s record. We had 8,076 new cases yesterday.

Daily new cases.

In the category of news that hadn’t been all that bad before that is worrisome. We had 57 deaths in Texas since yesterday. This is the second-highest daily number since we had 58 on May 14th.

Daily deaths.

For hospitalizations, we have 6,904 as of today. As usual, a new record.

Hospitalizations by day.

Travis County (Austin)

Hospitalization Demographics

Before getting into the current counts, I was asked about demographics of those in the hospital. From yesterday’s release of raw data tables from Austin Public Health, we can see the age breakdown that is updated weekly. (The public dashboard reports this. There was an issue that kept it from being updated for the last two weeks, but after I reached out to them, they updated it).

For the period ending on June 30th, here’s how the breakdown works out.

Age GroupPercentage of those Hospitalized
Under 10.5%
1-90.3%
10-191.0%
20-299.6%
30-3913.6%
40-4915.2%
50-5919.3%
60-6916.7%
70-7912.9%
80+11.1%

It’s about evenly split between men and women (52.7%/47.3%), but 60.6% of those hospitalized are Hispanic. This again ties into the theme that the virus is both a public health issue and an economic justice issue. In Austin, Hispanic folks are more likely to be in lower economic brackets, working in essential jobs (construction, janitorial, etc), living in close quarters, and generally not have the same ability as more economically-advantaged folks.

The CommUnity clinic test result data (which I don’t like sharing the actual numbers since it is only a subset of Travis County data and a subset that does skew toward lower socioeconomic groups. It’s interesting, but incomplete) does show a substantially higher positivity rate for Hispanic vs White Non-Hispanic and a substantially higher positivity rate for those on Medicaid or uninsured vs those with commercial insurance or Medicare. I don’t know if this really means something, but everything added up, it’s still interesting to me.

Today’s Counts

To repeat myself from the State data section, today sucks.

We added 597 new cases to put us over the 10,000 mark. We set new records for hospitalizations (376, +7), ICU (133, +1), and vents (67, +3).

We did see 4 more deaths today. We’ve had 11 deaths over the last three days and our 7-day average is sneaking up—1.7 now. We’ve had worse. We had a 3-day 12-person death run back in May and we went as high as 2.71 for a 7-day average when we had 19 people die within a week. So, straight looking at the numbers, we’ve been worse off on the deaths front, but three days of 3 or 4 in a row is different enough for this “reopening wave” for me to take note. If we keep on this 3-4 per day thing, we’d be seeing record levels of fatalities. Deaths have been pretty random, numbers-wise. Even last week, we had 1 death over four days, then all of a sudden 4, 3, and 4 in a three-day span.

In short, I hope this is just a random blimp, but my ears are perked up.

Wherein I just ramble a bit

How are y’all doing?

Following the progression of this virus isn’t bothering me. Even the the stuff that should scare me—like the story about the increases in cases at child care centers—don’t bother me. My wife, Vanessa, is concerned about the next school year, but I’m not. Not because I think it is safe nor that I expect us to go back to a more or less normal school year. Mainly, that’s still six weeks away and seeing how quickly things changed back in March and April, I can only take some of these things one day at a time and that isn’t on today’s agenda.

What gets under my skin is the deniers.

People of good faith can disagree. We can discuss policy, how to stimulate the economy while staying safe. We can talk about how virtual conferencing has changed our society and whether that will continue long-term or not.

But, when people deny the basic facts. I don’t get that. The people who can’t seem to accept even a little hardship for the greater good. I can’t process that without feeling just a little hopeless. “I have to keep on living my life” where that life means eating out—inside a restaurant. “I can’t wear a mask because it fogs my glasses so I’m not going to.”

No one is happy about wearing masks.We might find some silver linings out of it, but without this event, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about mask fashion trends. But, the data says it is a small thing we can do to help prevent the spread of the virus AND be able to return to some venues of pre-pandemic life. Why not wear one then?

It’s hard. The few times I’ve left the house, I’ve had to go back inside every single time because I left without grabbing a mask from the table by the front door. Maybe you feel silly trying to tie this pink polka dot mask while someone is outside your door knocking. It’s not all that comfortable. It’s Texas, it’s hot outside. This isn’t the time of the year I’m trying to add clothing.

But, it’s such a small sacrifice in the scheme of things. It costs so little—an old t-shirt or a $1 bandana is enough. Though, I must say I picked up some baseball-themed masks that are in-route to me now. (If you’re interesting in buying anything from them, use my referral link for 15% off your first order)

Like, why not wear one? I mean, really? Look at what life is like in Austin in 2020. No SXSW. No ACL. No UT graduation. No Austin Symphony Fireworks. Our internationally-renowned Central Library has been empty for 100 days. No Barton Springs or Deep Eddy. No drunken bachelorette parties on 6th (okay, maybe that one we’re fine not having).

We’re in a situation where we do need to not have these things right now. It sucks. I don’t like it. But, if by wearing a stupid mask, we can get back to normal faster, why not wear the stupid mask? If skipping a 4th of July BBQ this year means that maybe things will be better by Labor Day instead of Christmas, why not skip the BBQ? If ordering takeout instead of dining in helps everyone dine-in sooner, thus saving who knows how many local restaurants, why not order takeout instead?

Anyhow, closing thought is from Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO. No matter your opinion of the WHO right now, it doesn’t change the accuracy of the statement 😀:

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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