Travis County's top doctor on coronavirus risk: 'The lid is off. We have to put it back on'

Dr. Mark Escott, shown here in a March 6 press conference, said June 24 that if the community does not work harder to slow down the spread of COVID-19, local hospitals will exceed their capacity by mid-July. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Dr. Mark Escott, shown here in a March 6 press conference, said June 24 that if the community does not work harder to slow down the spread of COVID-19, local hospitals will exceed their capacity by mid-July. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Dr. Mark Escott, shown here in a March 6 press conference, said June 24 that if the community does not work harder to slow down the spread of COVID-19, local hospitals will exceed their capacity by mid-July. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County interim health authority, said in a June 24 press conference that area hospitals are on track to exceed capacity by mid-July if the community is not successful in reversing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Austin Public Health reported 56 hospital admissions June 23, and the moving seven-day average of daily hospitalizations has spiked from 11.3 to 39.3 over the course of two weeks from June 9-23.

Meanwhile, the doubling time of COVID-19, a metric local officials follow to monitor the exponential spread of the virus, has dropped from a steady rate of roughly 44 days through the spring—when stay-home orders were in place—to just 17.9 days as of June 23.

"If we're not successful in decreasing that doubling time, by mid-July we're going to exceed that hospital capacity," Escott said. "If you don't need to go out, don't go out. If you don't need to congregate with people, don't do it. We need to transition our mindset back to what it was in April."

Doctors, nurses and other members of the Austin medical community joined Escott in the press conference to deliver the message that residents need to take the virus seriously to keep hospital beds open, keep businesses running and keep their neighbors safe.


Dr. Christopher Ziebell, the medical director for U.S. Acute Care Solutions Southwest, said he has had a number of conversations with people close to him who see wearing a mask as an attack on their personal liberties.

"I can understand that perspective. I can also understand that while you are free to do the wrong thing; you are also free to do the right thing, and the right thing to do is to protect yourself from the disease," Ziebell said.

Escott said he is "pleading" with business owners to do everything they can to limit capacity where possible to avoid another shutdown. Restaurant dining rooms and other businesses in Austin were closed from March 17 to May 1 before Gov. Greg Abbott instituted orders to allow businesses to open back up in phases.

If COVID-19 case count and hospitalization trends continue, Escott said within the next week to two weeks he will recommend another shutdown to Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe.

"The lid is off. We have to put it back on," Escott said.
By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


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