The rolling average of daily hospitalizations, a metric public health officials use to monitor hospital capacity and project hospital resources into the future, rose from the single digits in most of March, April and May to 46.6 on June 24 and eventually up to 75.1 on July 8. In the last week, that average has dipped slightly, to 69.6 average daily hospitalizations July 15.
Dr. Jason Pickett, the Austin-Travis County alternate health authority, said the plateau is "a glimmer of hope," but it's difficult to say if the trend will remain or if the hospitalization numbers will continue their upward trend. Meanwhile, he said local hospitals are approaching their maximum ability to care for patients with the space and staff they have available.
"The hospitals right now are stretched, and they are pulling staff in from hospitals and other areas and contract staffing [workers] to increase their capabilities," Pickett said.
As of July 10, Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare reported they have a combined 2,473 overall staffed beds occupied at 77% and 483 intensive care unit beds occupied at 86%.
Austin is not the only city in Texas with a need for more health care resources. As of July 15, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services reported 10,471 COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals, up from 6,904 at the beginning of the month and 2,326 on June 15. The state also reported 10,791 new cases of the virus July 15, a new high.
With Austin competing for hospital staff with other cities around the state and the country, officials are working to set up the Austin Convention Center as a field hospital, Pickett said.
The convention center would not take ICU patients or those with a need for a high level of care. Instead, it would accept "lower-acuity" patients, according to Pickett, to free up space in other area hospitals. The field hospital at the convention center will be ready to begin operations on July 21, but it will not necessarily accept patients until there is a need, Pickett said.
"I hope we don't have to take a single patient in it. I hope the disease levels off, the hospitals are able to care for everyone that needs to be cared for in a hospital setting, but we've got to be ready for [a continued surge]—and we will be ready," he said.