95% of people had underlying health condition

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Of the more than 1,200 people who have died of COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County since the beginning of the pandemic, most had at least one underlying medical condition, health leaders reported Tuesday. Many of those conditions were long-term or chronic.

Hypertension, diabetes and cardiac disease were the most frequent comorbidities listed in Austin Public Health (APH) data. Nearly half of the people who died of COVID-19 in Travis County reportedly had hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, that data shows.

Only 5% of the people who have died of COVID-19 in Travis County did not have any identified underlying medical conditions, APH data suggested.

“Much of our community is at high risk for COVID-19 due to comorbidities. These patients often experience severe symptoms of the virus, which can mean longer hospital stays and death,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “Those who are higher risk must get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible. Wear a mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing.”

Other conditions linked to COVID-19 deaths included obesity, chronic kidney disease and asthma — though those were linked to COVID-19 at less starting rates.

Comorbidities reported among COVID-19 fatalities in Travis County
Comorbidities reported among COVID-19 fatalities in Travis County (Courtesy Austin Public Health)

Editor’s note: In Austin Public Health’s data, 18% of reported COVID-19 deaths had unknown underlying medical conditions and 14% were listed as having “other” comorbidities.

National studies show people from ethnic or racial minority groups are often more susceptible to chronic medical conditions at a younger age and also therefore more likely to get a serious case of COVID-19. Nearly half of the COVID-19 deaths reported in Austin-Travis County were people who identified as Hispanic, according to APH.

“The pandemic highlights the healthcare disparity that people of color experience daily,” said Austin Public Health Director Adrienne Sturrup. “Austin Public Health continues focused outreach efforts to improve healthcare equity and protect as many people from this virus as possible.”

Deaths during the omicron surge

Austin-Travis County health leaders say the omicron variant has proven to be less severe than delta, especially for people who were vaccinated and had their booster shot, which has resulted in less deaths among COVID-19 patients.

Walkes reported that there were 275 COVID-19 deaths in Austin-Travis County during the delta surge. As of Monday, there were 75 COVID-19 deaths reported in that same area during the omicron surge. Walkes expects those numbers will go up, but still not hit levels seen during delta.

“The number of deaths during this surge has been less than what we’ve seen with delta,” she told city and county leaders Tuesday.

Choosing a healthy lifestyle

Austin health leaders pointed to a program operating under APH called Healthy Places Healthy People, which aims to tackle chronic diet-related diseases, specifically for underserved communities.

That program partners with community groups through grants to educate about healthy living, including eating healthy, learning about diabetes, getting help quitting tobacco and exercise.

That program offers classes on diabetes, health eating, preventing health complications and stress management, among others. The classes are in both English and Spanish and are offered every few months.

The city also pointed to February being American Heart Month which raises awareness about cardiovascular health.

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