WilCo health officials warn of COVID-19 hospitalization spikes as infection rates climb

As of June 24, active cases of COVID-19 now outnumber recovered cases in Williamson County. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
As of June 24, active cases of COVID-19 now outnumber recovered cases in Williamson County. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

As of June 24, active cases of COVID-19 now outnumber recovered cases in Williamson County. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Hospitalizations have hit a record high in Williamson County, creating concern about a potential strain on the county’s health care systems.

According to the Williamson County and Cities Health District, as of June 24, active cases of COVID-19 now outnumber recovered cases. Data shows 831 people are sick, compared to 737 recoveries in the county to date. And case counts continue to climb. On June 24, 116 new cases were reported in Williamson County—the highest number of cases in the pandemic’s three-month period.

Justine Price, deputy director of the WCCHD, told Williamson County commissioners June 23 that the county’s COVID-19 positivity testing rate—the rate at which total tests conducted return positive—was listed at 9.2%. On June 24, that rate climbed to 10%—indicative, Price said, of a higher level of transmission.

“What we’re seeing is a pretty big increase,” Price said. “We would expect that if transmissions weren’t increasing, the percent positive among the population would stay relatively the same.”

The increase in infections is not equal among all age groups, according to the WCCHD. During June, COVID-19 cases increased 15% among those ages 18-40. Beginning June 11, WCCHD data highlighted individuals ages 18-40 began reporting higher numbers of new cases than those ages 41-60. Previously, those ages 41-60 had reported the highest number of infections. The likely cause of increased transmissions, Price said, is a rise in face-to-face interactions.

Data lags two to three weeks behind virus contractions, Price said. Therefore, the recent surge in increased cases can be traced back to Memorial Day weekend, recent social justice protests, and socializing at bars and restaurants as businesses have reopened over the past several weeks, she said.

“Certainly we're still going to be seeing in the coming weeks the effect of greater contact from the social protests and those types of interactions,” Price said. “I think just a higher number of people in [the 18-40] age demographic are mingling freely, and also probably [engaging in] a certain level of noncompliance with mask wearing.”

Amid concerns of increased hospitalizations, Price told Williamson County commissioners that the health district has changed hospital capacity calculations. The new method is intended to give the county a more accurate look at the number of beds and ventilators available for immediate use should there be a spike in hospitalizations, she said.

New calculations are conducted solely on materials currently available in Williamson County hospitals: beds, ventilators, staff and protective equipment. The WCCHD is no longer factoring in account contingency plans that would bring in additional supplies or personnel, she said.

Twenty-five people are hospitalized in Williamson County as of June 24, with nine admitted to the intensive care unit and four on ventilators. As it stands, 65% of ventilators and 28% of ICU beds remain available countywide, per WCCHD data.

Looking ahead to the Fourth of July, Price said she is concerned the health district will see spikes mirroring Memorial Day weekend, following a lack of social distancing or mask wearing in public. With the asymptomatic progression of COVID-19, the hidden danger of large social gatherings are people who are unknowingly carriers of disease, Price said.

“Having the big reopenings and the increased capacities, and then especially the holidays just really increase the potential for those congregate settings for large gatherings,” Price said. “And that's really an amplifying event for disease transmission that just allows a lot of opportunity for those who may be infected to potentially spread it to a large number of people all at the same time.”

As case numbers continue to climb, Price said she and WCCHD leadership are closely monitoring heightened case transmissions, acute cases, hospitalizations, and intensive care and ventilator use.

“This isn't a time to relax our posture when it comes to those things,” Price said. “It's time for all of us to step up, from the perspective of social responsibility, to be good stewards for our neighbors and our communities and to practice these things so that we can all help to do our best to keep each other safe.”
By Kelsey Thompson
Kelsey Thompson is the reporter for Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto, where her work focuses on education, city government and community development. Originally from upstate New York, Kelsey relocated to Austin after graduating from Syracuse University in May 2019.
By Ali Linan
Ali Linan began covering Georgetown for Community Impact Newspaper in 2018. Her reporting focuses on education and Williamson County. Ali hails from El Paso and graduated from Syracuse University in 2017.


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