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Tuesday, August 3, 2021 by Seth Smalley
As breakthrough cases rise, top doc stresses vaccine’s importance
The Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council members will convene a special called meeting today amid growing concerns about the highly infectious Covid-19 Delta variant and a shortage of ICU beds. On Monday, Austin Public Health reported that Austin’s Trauma Service Area, which serves more than 2.3 million people, had just 10 staffed beds available.
Health officials confirmed that Austin-Travis County had passed the threshold for stage 5 risk-based guidelines Monday afternoon in terms of hospital admissions, but noted that was only one criteria in determining Covid staging. On Twitter, APH said it was in the process of updating recommendations to include information about the Delta variant before announcing a move to stage 5.
Last week, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes detailed the state of the pandemic to commissioners, including statistics regarding hospital admissions, ICU admissions, age group analysis and the different Covid variants.
Walkes stressed the importance of getting vaccinated, while noting there have been 623 breakthrough cases so far – out of approximately 687,000 fully vaccinated individuals.
“That is a success for our community,” Walkes told commissioners, while explaining that the county is seeing a rise in breakthrough cases since the presence of the Delta variant was confirmed in mid-July.
“The Delta variant does present a challenge to the vaccine efficacy that we have right now. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not using a vaccine that is effective,” Walkes said.
From July 12-25, there were a total of 378 hospital admissions. Thirty-two percent of those admitted during that date range were between 50 and 69 years old, while 33 percent were between 30 and 49.
Over the same time period, 93 people were admitted to local ICUs. Of those admissions, 33 percent were between 30 and 49; 33 percent were between 50 and 69; and 17 percent were under 30. Notably, a smaller percentage of those admitted to the ICU were under 30 than above 70 (16 percent), possibly due to higher vaccination rates among older people in the area.
Over the course of the pandemic, 82 people per 100,000 died in Travis County compared to 141, 149, 182 and 327 in Harris, Tarrant, Bexar and El Paso counties, respectively.
“Of the 95 patients that were in the ICU yesterday, four were vaccinated,” Dr. Walkes said.
Of the 308 confirmed cases over a recent time period (Walkes didn’t give the exact date), 233 were caused by the Alpha variant, 49 from the Epsilon variant, six from the Gamma variant, one from the Beta variant, and 12 from the Delta variant.
Only about 1 percent of the 233 confirmed cases of Alpha variant led to hospitalizations. Meanwhile, 8 percent of the cases (one out of 12) of the Delta variant led to hospitalizations. Aside from Alpha and Delta, none of the other variants mentioned led to hospitalizations.
“Not only is the vaccine working, but it is also protecting people from severe illness. And, as I mentioned earlier, those who are vaccinated tend to have a disease that doesn’t require hospitalization,” Walkes said, mentioning that in some instances, vaccinated people may not even be aware they are infected with Covid.
Walkes also said Austin Public Health has delivered over 1 million doses (of first doses, at least) of the vaccine. “That’s a remarkable number and something to be proud of.”
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