Photo by Projections from a UT-Austin study finds Central Texans need to reduce social contact by 90% to avoid overloading hospitals.
Friday, March 27, 2020 by Claire McInerny

Here’s what Central Texans need to do to not overwhelm our hospitals

We know there will be an outbreak of COVID-19 in Austin, but the severity of the outbreak is up to us.

A new report from UT finds that if everyone in Austin reduces their human interaction by 90 percent, the city’s hospitals would be able to treat everyone who gets sick.

If people reduce their interactions by only 50 percent or 75 percent, hospitals in the five-county area around Austin will not have enough ventilators and beds to treat all COVID-19 patients.

Many people have been wondering when the peak of coronavirus cases will happen in Austin. Lauren Ancel Meyers, professor of integrative biology and statistics and data sciences at UT, says the region can avoid a severe peak if people take social distancing seriously.

“If we really are able to be successful in reducing our interactions with each other, and depressing and reducing the spread of the disease, we may not see a peak this summer,” she said. “However, we could have a very serious and devastating peak if we don’t take those actions soon.”

If people continue to have contact with others outside of their households and a peak does happen, Dell Medical School Dean Clay Johnston says the medical community is still trying to prepare for an onslaught of cases. He said hospitals are trying to get ready for what they call “surge capacity.”

“What if you double up rooms, what if you convert the emergency room into hospital beds, what if you convert clinic space into hospital beds, or other buildings,” Johnston envisioned.

Both Meyers and Johnston say this can be avoided if people continue to shelter in place and not come near others while in public.

So far, Austin-Travis County has reported 137 cases of COVID-19. Travis, Hays and Williamson counties have all issued stay-at-home orders to close many businesses and keep people inside except for essential travel and business.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt thanked the community during a press conference Thursday for reducing personal and business interactions by 50 percent, but she said we all need to work toward reducing our interactions by 90 percent.

“We can do this if every one of us, before we leave the house, asks ourselves: Is what I’m about to do essential to the health and safety of myself, my family, my community?” Eckhardt said. “If it’s not, stay home. If it is essential, follow the guidelines that have been laid out so clearly with regard to social distancing and hand-washing. Our lives are literally in each other’s hands.”

Mayor Steve Adler said it’s challenging for police to enforce the shelter-in-place order across the whole city at all times, so it’s important for individuals to police their own behavior and that of others.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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