Leaders at Austin Public Health said Sept. 17 the city's intensive care units remain overcrowded due to severe cases of COVID-19, resulting in delayed care for some patients from surrounding counties.

The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations in the Austin area has tracked down over the past month, from a peak of 83.6 on Aug. 11 to 52.3 on Sept. 17—nearing the threshold of 50, which could trigger a shift from Stage 5 to Stage 4 community pandemic risk. However, ICUs continue to be filled past capacity, with 223 coronavirus patients in Austin-area ICUs on Sept. 17. The community's hospitals only have enough staffed ICU beds to care for 200 patients.

With the delta variant now the most prevalent strain of COVID-19 in Central Texas, Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, said patients are staying in the ICU longer.

"We're seeing longer stays in our ICUs because delta is different. It causes more severe disease. For people that are unvaccinated, it's 10 times more likely to cause people to become hospitalized, requiring ICU care," Walkes said at a Sept. 17 news conference.

Patients with other health needs also continue to require ICU care, on top of the ongoing surge of coronavirus patients—and some of them are seeing delays because hospital staff is stretched too thin, Walkes said.

"We have patients in our surrounding counties who are starting to have to wait to be transferred for routine medical care. At one point during the early part of the week, we had over 20 folks waiting to be transferred into Austin-Travis County for care," she said. "Five of those were COVID[-19] patients, and the rest were people that needed help with things like strokes and heart attacks. So we're reaching that point where we need to look at our critical guidance for triaging patients and assessing who needs to have the care first."

Walkes implored the community to persist in tightening protective behaviors, including masking, social distancing and, especially, vaccination, in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep seeing hospitalizations trend downward.

"We have to get people vaccinated. It's time Austin. ... We have to get to the other side of this," she said.