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'If we experience a surge during Thanksgiving, it will not be over by Christmas' | Health officials warn public amid bleak COVID-19 projections

"It took us a long time to recover from the first surge and we can expect that this one, particularly if it were worse than the first one, may take even longer."

AUSTIN, Texas — During the Oct. 27 Travis County Commissioners Court meeting, Austin Public Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told county leaders the "projections for Thanksgiving are bleak" if the public does not actively reverse the COVID-19 transmission rate. 

Escott warned the commissioners that if there was a Thanksgiving coronavirus outbreak in the community, it would take a long time to come back from it, much like the Austin area saw in July.

"The trends and projections continue to display a significant worsening locally in Austin. Currently, it is suggesting we will break into Stage 4 territory of risk as early as Nov. 4," Escott said. 

He did say, however, it's not too late to turn things around. 

"I'll tell you right now, if we experience a surge during Thanksgiving, that surge will not be over by Christmas," Escott said. "It took us a long time to recover from the first surge and we can expect that this one, particularly if it were worse than the first one, may take even longer."

RELATED: UT COVID-19 model suggests 100% chance that epidemic is growing

On Tuesday, Escott provided his weekly update to the county commissioners regarding the coronavirus, including projections from the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, which projects 100% chance "the epidemic is growing" with 110% more infections predicted in its "14-day change" category. You can read more about the UT model data here.

In the Oct. 27 commissioners meeting, Escott said the UT model data projects more than 700 hospital beds would need to be utilized in third week of November, which "would exceed surge we saw in June and July." Similarly, Escott said the UT model projects ICU bed use would more than 200 by the third week of November, which also would exceed the June-July coronavirus surge. Escott said the ICU bed usage was 160 to 170 during that timeframe. 

WATCH: Dr. Escott updates Travis County commissioners on state of COVID-19 in the Austin-area (fast forward to nearly two hours into the meeting)

Escott also gave an update on influenza numbers. He said there have been five new flu cases (two cases of Flu A and three cases of Flu B). Escott urged the public to get flu shots because the hospital system would not be able to handle surges from both COVID-19 and flu simultaneously. 

A county commissioner asked Escott about how the UT model data were projected, in terms of the reference to the 700 hospitalizations. Escott said the UT model data project the numbers based on the admissions to the hospital and also accounts for mobility data. He said the gray lines on the projection graph are equally possible outcomes. As of Oct. 27, the hospitalization projections for the third week of November ranged from 184 to 874. 

The commissioner asked Escott about how they could reinforce the urgency of the coronavirus heading into holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Escott said Austin Public Health was working on a communication strategy to address the coronavirus fatigue or "COVID-burnout." 

He suggested the public adjust their gathering traditions surrounding these holidays for the betterment of public health.

"We all miss those social interactions. I haven't seen my folks for almost a year now because I don't want to put them at risk," Escott said. "Our advice right now is this: We don't want you to gather with people outside your household. But if people choose to do that anyway, they need to be smart about it. They need to mask during those interactions ... They need to social distance. If they plan on going to visit an elderly family member or visit loved ones for Thanksgiving, then they should lock themselves down for the 14 days prior to that. Again, the most protective thing to do is to continue virtual interaction ... to develop new traditions."


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