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.


MOST RECENT

See how COVID-19 impacted Williamson County in November. (Community Impact staff)
See how COVID-19 impacted Williamson County in November

Williamson County added more than 3,400 confirmed coronavirus cases in November, according to Williamson County and Cities Health District data.

From breakfast tacos and migas to tamales and chimichangas, Santiago's Tex-Mex and Cantina has doubled its Mexican and Tex-Mex offerings with the opening of its second Round Rock location. (Kelsey Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Santiago's Tex-Mex and Cantina opens 2nd Round Rock location and 3 other business updates

From breakfast tacos and migas to tamales and chimichangas, Santiago's Tex-Mex and Cantina has doubled its Mexican and Tex-Mex offerings with the opening of its second Round Rock location.

Traffic moves along the upper decks of I-35 near downtown Austin on Dec. 1. The Texas Department of Transportation is seeking public feedback on a $4.9 billion project to improve the 8-mile stretch of I-35 through downtown. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
TxDOT is spending billions to fix I-35 through downtown Austin, but some community members say the state is wrong in its approach

A report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute released Dec. 1 said the 8-mile stretch of I-35 from Hwy. 290 to SH 71 is the most congested roadway in the state.

Here are the coronavirus data updates to know today in Williamson County. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Williamson County reports 214 new coronavirus cases, 1 death Dec. 1

Here are the coronavirus data updates to know today in Williamson County.

Graphic of a coronavirus unit
COVID-19 rates after Thanksgiving have yet to climb, but experts say spike could still be coming

As Austin awaits a vaccine whose first doses could arrive by the end of 2020, health officials say the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings on the spread of the virus could take time to show up.

The primary focus of the plan is to help make city services, facilities, programs and activities more accessible to all residents. (Screenshot courtesy city of Pflugerville)
As Pflugerville prepares plan to improve accessibility, city seeks public input

The primary focus of the plan is to help make city services, facilities, programs and activities more accessible to all residents in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has launched a campaign to address declining college enrollment numbers across the state since the pandemic started. (Courtesy Pexels)
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board launches campaign to boost college enrollment

The decline in college enrollment across the state of Texas has prompted several agencies to partner up and create online resources for students and counselors.

Here is how Williamson County is being impacted by the coronavirus. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Williamson County adds more than 1,000 reported coronavirus cases Nov. 25-30

The county's positivity rate, or rate at which test return postiive, sits at 8.15%, data shows.

The changes come following the Round Rock Transportation Department's annual traffic signal operations, which "assist traffic flow as the city grows and traffic patterns change and evolve." (Courtesy Fotolia)
Round Rock to debut traffic pattern changes on 2 A.W. Grimes intersections in December

The changes come following the Round Rock Transportation Department's annual traffic signal operations, which "assist traffic flow as the city grows and traffic patterns change and evolve."

Daniel Presley's appointment follows the Nov. 13 resignation of Steve Flores, whose last day is Dec. 1. (Community Impact staff)
NEW: Daniel Presley named acting superintendent for Round Rock ISD

Presley's appointment follows the Nov. 13 resignation of Steve Flores, whose last day is Dec. 1.

In a Nov. 13 letter to Pflugerville City Council, the Pflugerville Fire Department said it might have to discontinue emergency ambulance services and advanced life support if additional funding is not made available. (Community Impact Staff)
Pflugerville residents push for EMS services amid new emergency district overlay discussions

"To allow citizens to vote on the current topic is to allow them to have a say in how their tax dollars are spent and how their loved ones are cared for," resident Blake Brown said Nov. 24.

The mayor pro tem acts as mayor when the mayor is absent from a meeting. (Community Impact Staff)
Omar Peña to continue as Pflugerville City Council's mayor pro tem

Omar Peña has served as mayor pro tem since 2015, with the position filled each year as new council members join.