Livestream: Austin Officials Present Coronavirus Modeling Data

Tony Cantu

This article originally appeared on the Austin Patch

AUSTIN, TX — City officials on Thursday unveiled research done by the University of Texas at Austin underscoring the link between stringent social distancing and the availability of needed medical resources.

The concept of physical distancing as it relates to mitigating spread of new coronavirus is viewed in the abstract for many. But research conducted by Meyers Lab at UT-Austin breaks through the conceptual with hard data showing the tactic's effect on accessibility to hospital beds, ventilators and other health care resources.

Once known as new coronavirus, the COVID-19 ailment is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have triggered outbreaks in the past.

The COVID-19 modeling data was developed using a pandemic-planning tool, projects possible scenarios based on percentage reduction of social contacts, officials said. The model demonstrates a relationship between social distancing and cumulative COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Moreover, the data illustrate that without stringent social distancing, COVID-19 may overwhelm hospital capacities in the Austin metropolitan area by this summer, officials explained.

To promote the practice of social distancing, Austin and Travis County officials previously implemented restrictions on mass gatherings beginning with local disaster declarations issued on March 6. Most recently, officials issued a Stay Home – Work Safe Order — in other words, a shelter-in-place decree — requiring residents to remain in place at home or place of residence, with exceptions for essential work and activities.

When conducting an allowed activity — shopping for groceries, retrieving medicines, visiting a financial institution and the like — people must maintain a buffer between them of at least six feet.

“These are unprecedented times," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said, "and the decisions we all make now will help save lives, reduce potential overcrowding at our area hospitals, and lessen the strain on our public health workers. I am calling on everyone in Austin to think of their loved ones - and those working hard each day to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community – and carry on accordingly.”

Chart courtesy of UT - Cumulative number of projected COVID-19 cases.

Chart courtesy of UT - Cumulative number of projected COVID-19 related deaths

“The health of the public is our top priority,” Dr. Mark Escott, Austin Interim Health Authority, said in a prepared statement. “Our staff members are working 24/7 to protect all of our loved ones and ensure that our health systems can handle COVID-19 to properly care for everyone’s family and friends."

Although local hospitals — while stressed — are not overwhelmed, more social distancing is needed to flatten the upward curve of illness to mitigate further potential spread of illness, Escott said: "At this time, the hospitals are doing well but we need to work toward that 90 percent reduction through a community effort.”

Officials noted the preliminary data is not definitive, relying on several assumptions that proper behavioral change can affect. This data also mirror similar models nationwide, and was a guiding force in issuing the "Stay Home – Work Safe Order" issued earlier this week, officials noted.

"The data from the University of Texas is a sobering reminder that we must do more as a region to protect one another and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “I know this is going to be a difficult time for our local economy and community, but the sacrifices we make now will save lives in the long run.”

As of 7 p.m. on March 25, there were 119 reported positive cases of COVID-19. Those exhibiting exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms — among them fever, cough and shortness of breath — are urged to avoid the risk of spread at clinics and hospitals by using tele-health virtual visits or calling their health provider.

Physicians will determine if there is another plausible diagnosis with similar symptoms (i.e. influenza), officials said.Individuals without insurance or established healthcare providers experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should call CommUnityCare at (512) 978-8775. Additionally, CommUnityCare will diagnose by phone and provide next steps. Austin Public Health continues to urge our community to work together to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and avoid overwhelming our healthcare system.

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From earlier:

AUSTIN, TX — City officials scheduled a livestreamed news conference on Thursday to discuss modeling data pointing to the link between stringent social distancing measures amid new coronavirus and availability of health care resources.

Officials will be on hand to expound on COVID-19 modeling data released by the University of Texas at Austin and related Austin-Travis County public health efforts, according to a press advisory. The research points to a link between the tactics of physical distancing to mitigate potential spread of illness versus the number of available hospital beds, ventilators and other healthcare resources.

Speakers include Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott. The broadcast is scheduled for Thursday, March 26, at 3 p.m.

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