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'It's not telling the future' | Austin health officials address changing ICU capacity timeline, model predictions

On Oct. 27, Escott said models projected ICU bed use would surpass capacity by the third week of November. That didn't happen. Why?

AUSTIN, Texas — In Wednesday's Austin Public Health Q&A with media members, Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott issued a stark timeline about the worsening COVID-19 situation in the city.

Escott said in the meeting that the Austin area is seeing an "unprecedented surge" after the City reported 574 hospitalizations, 161 ICU beds being utilized (out of 200), and 99 ventilators in use. He reiterated in the Q&A what he told Travis County commissioners the day before: that we could see ICU bed capacity met by next week.

This is not the first time Escott has given an "ICU capacity ultimatum" of sorts, however, and he was asked about that changing ICU capacity timeline in Wednesday's briefing. 

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


On Oct. 27, Escott said models projected 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. 

The ICU bed capacity on Oct. 27 was 40, according to the City's dashboard. The dashboard also shows ICU bed capacity moved from 64 on Nov. 16 to 81 on Nov. 27 – in that "third week of November."

KVUE reported on Austin's ICU capacity in November

Before the New Year, COVID-19 modeling suggested ICU capacity would be full by now. Instead, that timeline has now shifted to sometime next week, according to Escott.

Escott said the model's statistics that he cites are merely projections of what could happen should transmission remain at its current rate.

"The models are models. They are projections. It's not telling the future," Escott said. "It's telling us the future if the disease transmission stays the same as it is. I think it's a great sign that we see that date getting pushed off. Our hope is that we can avoid overwhelming surge." 

LISTEN: Austin health officials discuss ICU capacity, alternative care site

RELATED: UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium speaks on ICU capacity predictions

Escott said the community responded positively to the summer surge in June and July and flattened the curve. He said that's what we need to happen again.

KVUE also spoke with Dr. Spencer Fox, the associate director of the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. 

"What we're seeing is not necessarily the very quick exponential increase that we saw in the summer, but a more slow-and-steady rise and just continued rise over the course of the past few weeks," said Fox. "And if that continues, our projections are suggesting we'll hit ICU capacity in the city in the next few weeks."

According to a joint statement from Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David’s HealthCare on Tuesday, currently, the 2,473 staffed beds within all three healthcare systems are 79% occupied and the 483 ICU beds are 88% occupied. 

As of Jan. 5, the City's dashboard, 161 ICU beds were in use and the seven-day moving average for ICU bed capacity was 145.4.


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