AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health asks everyone involved in “gatherings outside of their household” last weekend get tested for COVID-19 as the area reported its highest active case number since August.
In a statement released Thursday morning, APH said the area had 1,034 active COVID-19 in the Austin-Travis County area Wednesday, the most since August 15.
“It is a gradual but significant increase in the number of cases,” the statement said, “and more than half of those who tested positive through APH test sites have been adults between 20 and 39 years old.”
APH also suggests “these numbers indicate that those who recently participated in gatherings have had a higher risk of encountering someone infected with the virus” and says anyone who has been in crowded gatherings should self-isolate and not visit any friends or family members considered high-risk for COVID-19 complications.
“APH cannot prevent a spike in cases ahead of the winter holidays without the support and cooperation of our entire community. An increase in case numbers will lead to needless hospitalizations and deaths,” the statement said.
The seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations has moved to 20, according to APH’s COVID-19 dashboard. On Oct. 1, the rolling average was 12.3.
The positivity rate for the week ending in Oct. 24, the latest updated on the dashboard, was 3.8%.
People can sign up for a free COVID-19 test through APH online or by calling 512-972-5560.
Sweep of bars on Halloween weekend
The increase in COVID-19 numbers comes as several downtown Austin bars have made the switch to become restaurants. While the governor has allowed counties to decide whether to re-open bars in their areas, Travis County has not done so.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission says it performed a statewide sweep of more than 1,700 bars and restaurants on Halloween weekend.
The sweep led to 30-day suspensions for eight businesses which violated the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. In Austin and Central Texas, TABC says it performed 273 inspections on Halloween weekend. While none of those suspensions happened in the Austin area, people still flocked to bars in other areas.
List of businesses who received TABC suspensions:
Rockstar Burger Bar – 217 N. Stanton St.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – 3737 N. Mesa St.
Bodega’s – 709 S. Polk St.
Kong’s – 1707 Texas Ave.
CJ’s Billiard – 4848 Military Parkway
IdleRye (doing business as Bitter End/Wok Hard Deep Ellum) – 2826 Elm St.
El Globo Taqueria Restaurant – 212 S. Llewellyn Ave.
The Corner – 401 University Drive
“These violations represent a very small number of the more than 20,000 licensed businesses inspected by TABC since the beginning of May,” TABC Chairman Kevin J. Lilly said. “A large majority of business owners are showing their commitment to keeping customers and employees safe, and we’re grateful for all of their hard work. TABC is committed to assisting the industry as we all work for a safe Texas.”
TABC says it’s been taking part in “Operation Safe Open” since the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect Texas. The inspection requirements include monitoring indoor customer capacity limits of 50% for bars and 75% for restaurants, along with social distancing of at least 6 feet between groups of customers.
Austin plans for increased holiday flight traffic
The increase in COVID-19 numbers comes at a time when the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport expects to see a holiday flight increase.
“Just in the last month, nearly a dozen routes have resumed service that were previously flying out of Austin,” said Spokesperson Bryce Dubee. “Several others have returned to the airport in anticipation for the increased demand this holiday season.”
Dubee says at the beginning of COVID-19, flights were down by 97% compared to last year. Months later, flight traffic isn’t at its prime, but the airport is seeing a gradual increase. That being said, Dubee says health and safety is the airports top priority.
“We have improved a lot of our cleaning procedures. We have on-call electrostatic sprayer teams to come into the terminal,” said Dubee. “The TSA has also made some of their own changes. They have their own plexiglas, and have created no-contact ways to process your ID and flight ticket.”
Dubee says the data shows most of the flight traffic is still for leisure, which includes visiting family members. Dr. Mark Escott says this is an even stronger reason for Austinites to be mindful of visiting vulnerable communities.
“You should not be gathering with individuals outside your household. If you choose to do so, then you have to take those protective actions. The fact that the people you are gathering with are family or friends should not give you any comfort in the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Escott. “If you must gather with (vulnerable individuals), then it’s really important that you quarantine yourself 14-days prior to visiting that individual.”