AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health officials are monitoring upward-trending COVID-19 case numbers as the Austin-Travis County positivity rate surpasses double-digit territory.
Data reported through May 28 note a positivity rate — or the rate of tested samples coming back positive for COVID-19 — of 14.1%. However, Austin Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes told KXAN Thursday that rate has since increased to more than 19%.
“This is something that we saw in early January when omicron, the omicron surge started,” she said. “And we’re starting to see that as well now, so we’re continuing to monitor the situation.”
Thus far, hospitalization levels have not increased dramatically in the Austin-Travis County region. Meanwhile, Walkes said there’s been a steady increase in new cases being reported — but even that doesn’t depict the full picture of the region’s current viral load.
Given the increased popularity of at-home COVID tests, fewer people are testing positive via PCR tests, which are automatically reported to local and state health authorities. As a result, she said there’s likely a significant number of cases going undetected on APH’s dashboards.
“There’s been a slow, steady increase in our case numbers,” she said. “We have to remember though, that we have underreporting of case numbers, because there are people who are doing home testing, and those cases are not being reported to the health department or the state.”
Those who do test positive through an at-home kit can report their results online on APH’s website.
With seasonal allergies prevalent in Austin, Walkes said some people might be experiencing allergy-like symptoms while unknowingly battling a case of COVID-19. Newer omicron variants, such as the BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, have common symptoms such as a running nose, sneezing, and sore throat in addition to more traditional COVID symptoms like fever, muscle and body aches and fatigue.
“A sniffle maybe be a mild case of COVID. You know, runny nose, a little bit of a scratchy, sore throat, fatigue. Some people are asymptomatic,” she said. “So if you’re not sure and if you feel that you’ve been in a situation where you could possibly have been exposed, go and get tested.”
For those testing positive, therapeutics are available to treat members of high-risk groups who contract COVID. Oral antiviral therapy treatment providers can be found online, and healthcare providers can refer patients for monoclonal antibody infusions, she said. APH also runs a mobile team within Austin-Travis County to deliver at-home treatments for those eligible.
Currently, Austin is listed as a low-risk zone under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s community levels system. Walkes said officials will continue to monitor triggering thresholds like COVID hospitalizations and new case loads, which could lead to a medium risk designation.
If this trend continues, Walkes said city and county officials might reinstate masking in government-run buildings and facilities, as well as continue to encourage community members to mask up and stay home when sick. She also encouraged those eligible for a second COVID booster to receive the shot to help boost their immunity levels.
“We want everybody to stay as healthy as they possibly can,” she said. “So I hope that people will take advantage of [the boosters] and enjoy graduation festivities and in the summer months, get outside and get moving.”