AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health held a briefing Thursday to explain a chart of newly-released COVID-19 risk guidelines as well as discuss the effect social distancing and personal hygiene is having on the number of cases.
The chart is to help people understand the stages of risk and what they can do to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know like many people, when I go home at night, my wife and daughter every single day ask me, ‘Can I go shopping? Can I get my hair done? Can I get my nails done?; And the answer to that question for people across the community is different,” said Dr. Mark Escott Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “It is different based upon their individual risk. It’s different based upon the risk in their household.”
Here’s the chart APH has released, and it details what people should do in certain stages of risk. Escott said this current chart is only the first iteration and changes could be made in the future.
Currently, the area is in the yellow Stage 3 zone, which means people should maintain social distancing and wear face coverings and only healthy, low-risk people should travel anywhere, APH says.
Escott told KXAN he wanted to provide some clarity after policy changes that happened at the state level, which allowed some businesses to reopen.
He said the chart isn’t a city ordinance, but rather, it’s what health officials believe people should consider to evaluate their own risk.
Escott also talked about how the rate of increase of COVID-19 is dropping.
The above graph shows the cumulative number of cases with the red bars; the new cases each day with the yellow bars; and the percent change compared to the previous day, which is the green line.
“What this is showing us is that as we’ve progressed over time, our rate of increase continues to decline. So while we’ve had a doubling rate every day early on, now our doubling rate is around 23 days,” said Escott. “So this is a good sign for us. This is why we are willing to accept more risk, be more liberal when it comes to dining or shopping or going out.”
Additionally, Escott explained how efforts from residents to adhere to social distancing guidelines and personal hygiene is having a positive impact on the number of confirmed cases in the Austin-Travis County area.
The chart above shows a seven-day rolling average of new cases. The yellow lines show that the average number of new cases has been relatively steady for the past few weeks. Escott says this shows a flattening of the curve.
“What we are seeing in the flattening of the curve is an effect of the treatment. And that treatment is that social distancing, that personal hygiene and those facial coverings. That treatment has to continue,” said Escott.
Escott says that while the treatment is effective and we are flattening the curve, we as a community are not cured of COVID-19. He went on the say that we will not be cured of the disease until there is an effective vaccine made available to the public.
The two graphs above show the total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on the left, and on the right the new hospitalization rate and seven-day rolling average. Escott said that while we have seen an increase in cumulative hospitalizations, that increase has been slow. He said that, again, thanks to the efforts of Austin residents, the hospitalization curve has been kept flat.
“If you stop doing those cautious things, stop the social distancing, and the public masking, the attention to personal hygiene, it will not be flat anymore. What we all want is to keep it flat so we can keep things open,” Escott said.
He added, “Large gatherings were the first thing that we closed down and will be the last thing to open up again.”
That sets out an unclear path for a big part of Austin’s identity, live music.
Concert venues have been closed since March.
“It’s certainly challenging for all of us who are associated with Austin City Limits,” said ACL General Manager Tom Gimbel. “Whether it’s the television show or ACL Live at the Moody Theater the venue or the ACL festival. You know, we’re all, at our hearts, we’re all music fans, and to not have live music has been challenging to us, both personally and professionally.”
He added, “While we are waiting for live music to happen again, and I’m sure it will happen again, we’re trying to find unique and creative ways to bring live music content to people in their homes through streaming events and other creative ways that we can keep people entertained, you know, lift people’s spirits while they’re at home dealing with this crisis.”
For future tapings, Gimbel said they’re looking at all options.
“Bringing maybe it’s local artists into the studio. They don’t have to travel. Whether we can have a full studio audience, a limited studio audience or maybe no audience at all, if it comes to that,” Gimbel explained.
He said, right now, musicians and venues need the public’s support.
When concerts are allowed to resume, Gimbel said, “I think live music is in Austin’s DNA, so as Austin ether grows or repairs itself after this crisis, live music is going to be a part of that growth and of that repair.”
Additionally, residents in the Austin-Travis County area can register for free assessments and testing through a public testing enrollment form on the Austin city website here.