Local COVID-19 rates fell back to the low level this week after spending a week at the medium level of spread in Travis, Williamson and Bastrop counties. But the levels still remain high in Caldwell and Hays counties.
What’s the difference in county rates?
The differences in the rates are related to hospital capacity and how many new COVID-19 admissions there are at local hospitals. Travis, Williamson and Bastrop counties are considered one hospital area by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Hays and Caldwell counties are another.
Hays and Caldwell counties have 20.1 new admissions with COVID-19 per 100,000 people, and 6.1% of the staffed hospital beds are occupied by a patient with COVID-19. Travis, Williamson and Bastrop counties have 7.4 new admissions per 100,000 people and 4.2% of hospital beds are occupied by someone with COVID-19.
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With the latest numbers, the number of new admissions is putting the southern counties at a higher COVID-19 level. When the new admissions hit 10 or above per 100,000 people, the level goes to medium. When it hits 20 or above, it goes to high.
The transmission rate, which is the number of people infected with COVID-19 per 100,000 people, did fall this week from reaching the 150s to now being between 135.54 to 102.28, depending on the county.
What do the levels mean?
The CDC’s recommendations for precautions at the high level is that everyone should wear a mask when going out in public. If you are at high risk for severe symptoms, you should not go out in public unless necessary.
At the medium level, people at high risk for severe symptoms should wear a mask, and if you are regularly around someone at risk, you should wear a mask.
At the low level, everyone should avoid contact with someone who has recently been sick or isolate if you feel sick. You do not need to wear a mask or avoid social settings unless your doctor advises it.
What’s the latest on COVID-19 XBB 1.5?
Last week, Austin Public Health said it had detected the “Kraken” subvariant of omicron known as XBB.1.5. As of Friday, XBB.1.5 made up 49.1% of all COVID-19 cases across the country, according to the CDC.
The Kraken strain is known for its high level of transmissibility as well as its ability to resist some treatments.
“This new subvariant is making its way into our community right as many people were indoors gathering with others during the cold and over the holidays,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority. “When mixed with a flu infection, the combination can cause serious illness for those at-risk such as children and seniors.”
Here’s what we know about the XBB variants of the coronavirus:
- XBB variants have rapidly replaced other COVID-19 subvariants in the U.S. They did the same in Europe earlier.
- The bivalent booster (the updated booster) still provides a level of protection and reduces the risk of hospitalization.
- XBB variants are resistant to existing COVID-19 treatments such as monoclonal antibody infusions. This is particularly worrisome for people who are immunocompromised.
- XBB variants do appear to respond to the antiviral treatments available to lessen symptoms.
- The symptoms of XBB variants are the same as other COVID-19 variants: cough, congestion, exhaustion, fever, sore throat, nausea, diarrhea and headaches.
What about flu?
Locally, we’ve been fighting flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses at the same time. Flu test positivity rates have fallen to 9.72% in the area. It was regularly in the mid-20% range most of the fall.
Fighting all these viruses at the same time has affected hospital capacity, especially at children’s hospitals. The Central Texas region has had between one and five available pediatric intensive care unit beds in the past week. At times in fall, there had been no pediatric ICU beds available.