COVID-19 cases in high school, college students spiking, top doc says it’s not from being in a classroom

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health officials are concerned about the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in the area, especially in young people, they said during a media briefing Friday.

APH Interim Health Authority Mark Escott said the moving average of cases has gone up 83% in the past two weeks Since Sept. 3, and the biggest increase has been in age groups 10-19 and 20-29.

That’s cause for concern, Dr. Escott said.

“When we look at that data further, college students have positivity rate of around 10%, more than double what the community rate is. High school aged kids is at 14%, triple what the community rate is,” Dr. Escott said.

“The data we have in hand right now, four dozen cases are in secondary school settings in Travis County and 100s are in college settings with no evidence those have happened in a classroom,” Escott said.

He said the cases are coming from social gatherings and extra curricular activities like athletics and band, and he said it’s important for parents to understand that there’s a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in those settings.

“We know these activities are likely to present situations where masking and social distancing are not practical. It’s important that parents understand that,” Dr. Escott said.

“Those activities bring an increased risk of transmission for those children and for the household. Because of that, we also recommend that, if children are going to active in those programs, masks and social distance at home to protect the household,” he said.

With Texas Gov. Greg Abbott relaxing capacity rules for restaurants and other businesses around the state Thursday to allow 75% capacity, health officials are reminding people they still need to take the same precautions they’ve been taking throughout the pandemic.

On whether it’s safe enough to go out to restaurants and be in other businesses that are increasing capacity, Dr. Escott says in the end, it’s a personal choice.

“I think ultimately, people are going to need to make that decision for themselves,” Dr. Escott said.

Tables will still be placed six feet apart, or four feet apart if physical barriers are in place, and health officials were pleased that Gov. Abbott kept that rule around.

Dr. Escott said they would have preferred Gov. Abbott waited until the area was in Stage 2 before increasing capacity, but he understands what Gov. Abbott is trying to do.

“We’re not entirely upset with the governor,” Dr. Escott said. “I think he’s trying to balance the risk to our health and safety and the risk to the economy. I think we’re probably a couple weeks away from a position where we would have supported this.”

APH Director Stephanie Hayden said there’s information on the city’s website that can help people make informed decisions and the risks involved with those decisions.

“We really want people to use resources on our website to help people make the best decisions for them and their families,” Hayden said.

With nursing home visitation rules also relaxed, Dr. Escott said people visiting loved ones in long-term care facilities need to act as if the area is in Stage 4, rather than Stage 3.

About 40% of new cases in Travis County in the first two weeks of September are from the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Escott said. Coupled with the cases in high school aged children, he called them “significant.”

“We have to make sure they are not spreading this to other people in the community,” Dr. Escott said.

He said if anybody has been in a social gathering or situation where wearing a face mask and social distancing didn’t happen, they need to get tested.

“It’s important for us to ID folks who are asymptomatic or presymptomatic that still have the risk of spreading to others,” he said. “If we can engage and practice that in the community, we can keep this under control.”

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