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Austin health leaders discuss current uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations

On Thursday, Austin Public Health announced the CDC classified Travis County as now being at a "medium" level for COVID-19 community spread.

AUSTIN, Texas — COVID-19 has become back of mind for many people in recent months, but we are now seeing an uptick in cases and hospitalizations in Travis County.

“We’ve had 60 to 70 patients in the hospital that are positive for COVID-19, and so those numbers are climbing up,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes with Austin Public Health.

Walkes said the area is seeing the highest number of hospitalizations since January. In Travis County on Friday, 71 people were in the hospital with COVID-19, 13 patients were in the ICU and two were on ventilators. But for most people, the two variants of omicron spreading in the community will not cause severe illness.  

“So, it seems at this point that it causes mild illness in those who aren't susceptible to poor outcomes,” said Walkes. “But for people that are susceptible to getting severe illness, it still has that risk associated with it for them.”

RELATED: Travis County now at 'medium' threat level for COVID-19

One way to protect yourself is to wear a mask. Now that Travis County has been upgraded to medium-level community spread, it is recommended those who are at risk where a mask when social distancing is not possible. This includes people who are unvaccinated, not boosted and those who have conditions like hypertension, cancer, diabetes or are obese.

“We're seeing a surge, and we really want to see our community remain well and get boosted,” said Walkes.

Right now, people five and older are eligible for a booster shot and people 50 and older, or those who have underlying issues, are eligible for a second booster shot.

“Getting that extra booster shot will give you more protection and help you as we're dealing with these new variants that are more transmissible,” Walkes explained.

RELATED: Austin Public Health now offering COVID-19 vaccine boosters for kids 5 and older

Another key part of fighting COVID-19 is testing. Right now, leaders with Nomi Health, which has two main test sites in Austin, say there are more people in need of COVID-19 tests.

“Specifically, in Central Texas, we can see those starting to kind of trend upwards, and they have been, since pretty much the beginning of May,” said Jaclynn Fuller, Texas state operations director for Nomi Health.

Fuller said it is not just the number of tests that is increasing.

“We're seeing an increase in positivity rates as well. So, the highest really since the beginning of April,” said Fuller.

Both leaders hope people will keep their health in check and make safe decisions so that the current surge can be brought under control.

“So, I’m hoping that we will, you know, get that extra bit of wind because the race is almost won,” said Walkes.

Walkes said wastewater tests have shown the area has 30 times the number of people infected with COVID-19 compared to actual reported cases. She said this is due to at-home testing.

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