Austin Public Health leaders said Aug. 31 they are hopeful that local COVID-19 conditions are improving as coronavirus-related hospital admissions begin to trend downward.

"We're starting to see our case numbers decrease over time, and that is an exceptional thing to say at this point, but we're still cautiously optimistic," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority, in a presentation to Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court.

As of Aug. 31, the seven-day moving average of daily admissions at Austin-area hospitals—APH's primary indicator for local coronavirus risk—is 70.3, down from the recent peak of 83.6 on Aug. 11. The total number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 is currently 582, down from a peak of 653 on Aug. 25. The number of patients in intensive care units has also eased up in recent days, with 211 in ICUs and 158 on ventilators, although hospitals remain strained.

However, Walkes said Travis County had seen an uptick in coronavirus cases traced to schools in the past week, which could put the county's progress at risk. The past seven days saw 817 cases in schools, with more than 17,000 close contacts traced to them. Not all of those close contacts were required to quarantine per Texas Education Agency guidance, according to Walkes.

"We've had a marked increase in school cases across the state of Texas, with schools reopening and not using the mitigation methods that we used last year to decrease case spread in that environment of congregate settings where children are in close quarters and not social distancing," she said.

In order to keep COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations trending downward, Walkes reiterated that unvaccinated individuals over the age of 12, of which there are around 250,000 in Travis County, should seek a shot as soon as possible.

Austin and Travis County remain in Stage 5, the highest level of pandemic risk.