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Austin health officials warn there are 16 staffed ICU beds left for 2.3 million residents as COVID cases surge

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Health officials in Austin, Texas, issued a dire warning on Friday: There are only about 16 staffed ICU beds left for the entire region, an 11-county area that's home to more than two million people. It's the lowest number of ICU beds available in the region since the pandemic began, the city said. 

"The latest COVID-19 spike is putting extraordinary pressure on our hospitals, emergency departments and healthcare professionals, and it has further challenged hospital staffing due to a longstanding nursing shortage," a group of hospitals said in a statement from the city. 

All of the hospitals in Travis County — where Austin is located — and in 10 other counties are part of what the state calls Trauma Region O. Trauma Region O serves approximately 2.3 million people, according to the city's statement. 

Austin's public health department urged the community to act "as the situation becomes critical." 

"We are running out of time and our community must act now," Dr. Desmar Walkes of the Austin-Travis County Health Authority said in the city's statement. "Our ICU capacity is reaching a critical point where the level of risk to the entire community has significantly increased and not just to those who are needing treatment for COVID."

The dire figures come as Austin is battling a spike in hospitalizations. According to data gathered by the city and Travis County, the 7-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations has increased by over 47% over the past week. In that time, the number of COVID-19 patients in local ICU's jumped from 91 to 117, a 28% increase, and the number of patients on ventilators rose from 47 to 65, a 38% increase, the city's statement said. 

In July, more than 4,600 new COVID-19 cases and 19 deaths have been reported to Austin's public health department, the city added. 

In a statement shared at an Austin City Council meeting on Tuesday, a local nurse practitioner said the intensive care unit capacity at their hospital recently "blew up."

"They are literally all on ventilators and/or ECMO lung bypass," the nurse practitioner wrote in the statement. 

"I am angry. I am so angry," they added. "I am also sad and dismayed. The third round is, was, entirely preventable. It is devastating to see and experience firsthand."

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