Health & Science

UT Projections Show COVID-19 Hospitalizations Could Break Previous Record Soon — And Far Exceed It

Hospitalizations in the state have seen a dramatic increase since last month.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and intensive care units across the state is on track to exceed the previous all-time high, set back in early January, within a week, according to projections from the UT Austin’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

And unless something changes, things would just continue getting worse, the projections show.

"The increase in hospitalizations, it appears to be steeper than anything else we've seen so far," said Spencer Woody, a post-doctoral fellow at the Modeling Consortium.

The projections are based on COVID trends and vaccination rates, but also take into account how much people are gathering in public social settings like bars and restaurants.

"Our projections show what will happen if the status quo continues. But we could turn this trajectory around if we take action immediately," Woody said. "If everyone starts wearing masks today, stops mixing in large indoor crowds and, in the long term, if everyone gets vaccinated, then we should see this trend of increased hospitalizations reverse itself."

Hospitalizations in the state have seen a dramatic increase since last month. More than 9,000 people were in the hospital for COVID-19 as of Saturday, compared to about 1,600 in early July, state data show.

The space available at intensive care units is also critically low. State data show 394 ICU beds were available in the entire state as of Sunday, including only six for the 11-county region that includes Austin. That’s six ICU beds for an area with about 2.3 million residents.

On Friday, the Modeling Consortium also released its projections for the effect schools reopening next week could have on transmission in the Austin area. They show that if nothing changes, hospital capacity in the region will be exceeded in the next two weeks.

Some parents across the state have expressed concern about the lack of mask mandates in schools as in-person classes get set to resume.

Parents, teachers and students on Monday called on the Austin school district to go against Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning schools and local governments from requiring masks. The district last week said it will require students to be masked on buses, arguing it has the legal authority to do so under current CDC guidance.

The Houston and Dallas school districts have already said they plan to defy the governor’s order.

Some speculate that the current COVID surge due to the delta variant will collapse sooner than expected, as it has in the United Kingdom.

"We can have periods of very steep climbs followed by very precipitous falls," Woody said. But it's unclear why other places have had such extreme ups and downs this time, he added.

"One possibility is that they just reached a level of protection with increased vaccinations and infections," he said. "Another possibility is that the UK population was more responsive to government calls for reduced mobility and mask orders. But between those two hypotheses I haven't seen compelling evidence in one's favor."

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