There’s now evidence of COVID-19 community spread in Austin, health officials say


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott spoke in a virtual press conference Friday to provide updates to the county’s efforts against COVID-19.

Austin Public Health confirmed Thursday there is evidence of community spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in Travis County. This means health officials can’t track down where a case came from, meaning they can’t link it to another person or place.

“Right now we have evidence of community spread and that means that our success in battling and defending the community against this virus depends on every single person in the community,” Escott said.

In the interview Escott explained that health officials cannot provide a definite number of how many cases of community spread are in Travis County.

“We are investigating five clusters, five groups that have related cases and as soon as we have further information on that that we can share we certainly will,” said Escott.

Escott explained that there are three important factors to keep in mind when confronting COVID-19:

  1. This is not an equal opportunity virus. Young people will have mild symptoms, but older residents are at a much higher risk.
  2. Constantly check ourselves for symptoms before going out into public.
  3. If you are not sick it is not appropriate to rush to the emergency room or urgent care in response to COVID-19. Call your doctor first, there is no immediate treatment for COVID-19 and medical professionals need to keep urgent care rooms open for other emergencies.

Travis County announced Thursday it had 41 cases of COVID-19, compared to 23 the day before. APH spokeswoman Jennifer Samp said while a majority of cases are travel-related, she confirmed initial reports that show evidence of community spread in Travis County, but says APH is still investigating.

“This virus can hide behind mild symptoms and if you feel under-the-weather or have even a small cough or sniffle, it is important to stay home,” said Dr. Escott. “Before you go to work, school or shopping, check your symptoms and temperature, and if you have either stay home. This is to protect our elderly loved ones or those who have underlying health conditions.”

In the virtual press conference, Escott said Travis County is expecting addition testing capacity, and there is potential community testing sites can be launched on Saturday.

“I want to be very clear, this doesn’t mean we have enough capacity to test everyone who wants to get tested at this stage,” Escott said. “we still have to prioritize those who are at higher risk, those who are hospitalized, our health care workers and our first responders to ensure that they have access because it’s important for public health and our infrastructure.”

How COVID-19 spreads

Before the virtual press conference health officials in the Austin-Travis County area released additional information on COVID-19.

  • The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. 
  • It spreads between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). 
  • It is not airborne but is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 
  • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
  • There is no evidence that casual, brief interaction with somebody leads to transmission. The concern is when people gather in close quarters for longer periods.  

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