On July 14, Mayor Steve Adler joined a virtual interview with Politico on the state of affairs in Austin, given the recent surge in Texas COVID-19 cases. Adler expressed his concern for the state and Austin in particular, singling out the difficulties that the city’s healthcare system is facing and the issues The University of Texas and local school districts will face when students return in the fall.
Adler was not shy about the harrowing situation facing Austin.
“We’re on the edge,” he said. “We opened up our economy too soon without testing and tracing really being in place. Now we’re paying the price. Numbers are going up, hospitalizations are going up, [and] deaths are going up.”
This week, total Austin COVID-19 cases exceeded 15,000 after Travis County reported 657 new cases on Monday, July 13, bringing the total to 15,445. As of July 14, 172 people have died.
Although Adler suggests that Austin is doing better than other major Texas cities, he is concerned by Austin’s decreasing ICU capacity. The Austin American-Statesman reported that on Monday, July 13, 459 people with COVID-19 were currently in Austin hospitals, 151 of which are in intensive care, and 86 of which require ventilators to breathe.
Asked what Austin will do if the hospitals are overloaded, Adler credits “surge plans” that may transfer healthcare workers from less burdened cities into Austin and press nonactive healthcare workers into duty.
Adler attributed part of the Texas spike to the increase in cases for 20- to 29-year-olds, something he fears will be compounded by the upcoming fall semester at The University of Texas.
“I’m concerned about students living on top of one another in dorms and homes. I’m concerned about the reach that students will create that’ll be impossible to contact trace,” Adler said. “I’m concerned about whether the university can maintain mask-wearing on campus, and I’m real concerned about 100 thousand [fans] in a stadium for a football game.”
Adler added that UT football will likely not occur in traditional fashion, hinting that the team will not play in front of a live audience.
In addition, Austin’s school districts may not open for a traditional school year. Instead, Adler discussed the potential for opening schools in a limited capacity for students with extraordinary needs.
In the face of much uncertainty, Adler suggested that Austin did well to assist one of the most vulnerable communities, the homeless population. According to Adler, the city government rented hotel rooms and created isolated facilities to house homeless people. The city also provided testing.
“We’re trying to take advantage of this opportunity to really build infrastructure or opportunities for permanent supportive housing, so that at the end of this — and there will be an end of this someday — we’re ahead [of] where we were when we entered into it,” Adler said.