Hospitals, local officials and academics united to create a novel system to monitor hospital capacity in Austin, Texas, that helped the capital city keep COVID-19 deaths lower than in other Texas cities. The initiative also limited disruptions caused by pandemic restrictions on the local economy.
Rising COVID-19 admissions led to longer hospital stays and mounting fatalities in Austin last winter, as it did in regions across Texas and the nation. But insiders say collaborations between the public and private sectors set Austin apart, and the numbers seem to support that contention.
Travis County, where Austin is located, experienced the lowest per capita COVID-19 death rate among Texas counties at 73 per 100,000 population. That compares to 161 per 100,000 statewide and 335 per 100,000 in Cameron County, which suffered the worst mortality rate in the state. Austin had 881 deaths from COVID-19 among its 2.2 million residents. By contrast, San Antonio—population 2.4 million—experienced more than 3,000 deaths from the virus. More than 50,000 Texas residents died of COVID-19 between March 2020 and March 2021.
The Austin region also spent less time under strict "lockdown" conditions than the other 21 such trauma service areas in the Lone Star State.
Authorities around the world employed a variety of means to track caseloads and use that information to route patients and make determinations about whether restrictions on public activity were needed. Austin went further by getting political leaders, health systems and academics to work together.
"We had this really unique task force guiding the city that was really good at aligning the various parties and what our goals were," said Lauren Meyers, the University of Texas at Austin researcher who developed the alert model and managed it as part of the UT Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, a group of researchers and healthcare professionals.