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Austin in 'stage of widespread community exposure' after Thanksgiving holiday, APH leaders say

 AUSTIN, Texas — While Austin is in a "stage of widespread community exposure" following Thanksgiving holiday gatherings, how that is impacting hospitals will be determined in the next few days, Austin Public Health leaders said in an update Dec. 9

Janet Pichette, the chief epidemiologist at APH, said health leaders continue to hear reports about Thanksgiving gatherings that happened. She said during the briefing that the Austin area is currently in a "stage of widespread community exposure" and that she urges people to keep gatherings to those within your household.

KVUE spoke with Dr. Christopher Ziebell, the medical director of the emergency department at Dell Seton Medical Center, about when, or if, people would see a Thanksgiving spike.

"It is starting to trend up. I don't think we're in the thick of the spike yet on the hospitalization side," said Ziebell. "We are seeing an increase in the number of positive test results on the outpatient side and usually hospitalizations follow that by about one to two weeks."

An increase in new cases in the weeks after Thanksgiving has resulted in a slight bump in the seven-day average. On Nov. 25, Travis County was seeing 273 new cases per day, according to Travis County's dashboard. On Dec. 8, Travis County's new cases average rose slightly to 297 per day.

Ziebell said if hospitals get cases due to Thanksgiving, it will likely happen three weeks after the holiday. 

"We're definitely seeing a second spike, and I think everybody's big worry is that we'll end up with a spike on top of a spike if because of the timing of when Christmas happens," Ziebell said. "If people are traveling again and coming together again at Christmas and now there's a much stronger penetration of the germ in the community, that really is the kindling that we need to light off a really big inferno."

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin's top doctor, said the next few days will determine how significant the impact of those statistics is on hospitals.

He said that, currently, ICUs in Austin have plenty of capacity and that they are running at typical vacancy levels for this time of year. KVUE reported on Dec. 8 that 83% of ICU beds between Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare are occupied. There are 483 ICU beds available in Austin-Travis County.

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