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Austin area sees jump in Covid cases as students return to classrooms

Wednesday, August 25, 2021 by Jerry Quijano, KUT

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New coronavirus cases in the Austin area have increased this week as students, teachers and staff head back to in-person classes.

The city’s medical director, Dr. Desmar Walkes, told a joint meeting of Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council members that the surge was expected given the varying mask mandates – or lack of – across school districts.

She said Austin Public Health is seeing more transmission in schools with the start of this school year compared to last year, when virtual options were more readily available and masks were required.

“Let me repeat: Masks stop the spread of Covid-19,” Walkes said Tuesday. “So it’s important that our children rely on us to protect them by sending them to school with masks at this point in time.”

The Austin-area hospital system is also in a much more stressed state than it was when school started last year.

“This situation is very surreal because what is happening in our hospitals is very, very concerning,” Walkes said. “What’s happening outside the walls of the hospitals is very much, in many instances, looking like business as usual.”

One year ago, the seven-day average for new daily hospital admissions was 21. That number is now at 80, well above the threshold for the highest level of Austin Public Health’s community-risk guidance.

More than 160 ventilators were in use and 232 patients were being treated in intensive care units as of Monday afternoon.

“We’ve surpassed our ICU numbers from previous spikes,” Walkes said. “Our ventilator use has also increased, and we need the public to do what they can to help us with decreasing these numbers so that our ICU capacity will not continue to be stretched.”

Walkes said she’s hopeful the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine will persuade “those who were hesitant in the past (to) get out there, get vaccinated and get us to the other side of this pandemic.”

She also said booster shots will be necessary for immunocompromised people as the virus continues to mutate. She urged those who are not yet vaccinated to heed the call now before contracting a preventable illness.

“These vaccines are protecting against severe disease, ICU admissions, hospitalizations and death,” she said.

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

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