Healthy holidays: Leaders warn COVID-19 case numbers could be rising again in Austin-Travis County


AUSTIN (KXAN) — As millions of people are expected to travel and gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, Austin-Travis County health leaders are warning that case numbers locally are starting to inch upwards again.

Austin Public Health’s chief epidemiologist, Janet Pichette, said there was a 33% increase in the number of new cases reported last week from the week prior. Community transmission rate, something APH introduced to the public a few weeks ago, is also slowly rising.

“That causes me to pause a little and say, ‘Okay what’s going on? Do we have people where the vaccine is waning a little bit and they need to get boosted? Do we have people who are not masking and getting a little lax in their mask wearing?’” Pichette said. “We just are asking the community for continued vigilance at this time.”

The announcement comes just a couple days before families will gather for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Health leaders say best-case scenario for you is if everyone around your table is fully vaccinated, including a booster shot, if eligible. For people who are unvaccinated, APH recommends testing for COVID-19 less than 72 hours before showing up to an event and wearing a mask around people who are highly susceptible to the virus.

Austin-Travis County is still in Stage 3 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines heading into the holiday week, which recommends people wear a mask during private indoor gatherings despite vaccination status.

While hospitalizations have dipped into the Stage 2 threshold at a 7-day rolling average of 12 new admissions, community transmission rate (CTR), which was recently introduced by local health leaders, and other early indicators of a surge have not.

“In the Austin area we are sort of at a point of uncertainty right now, things are maybe slightly ticking up in both cases and hospitalizations and they certainly have stopped decreasing,” Graham Gibson, a postdoctoral research assistant for the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, said.

Projections from the modeling consortium show without a response from the community, we could see a repeat of the 2020 winter surge.

“The models are sort of almost waiting for us to decide what the cases will be in the future,” Gibson said.

Health leaders said in parts of the country where community transmission rate is high right now, waning immunity has been a factor. Health leaders encouraged the public to get their booster shot as soon as possible.

“The only thing that you should be bringing to the Thanksgiving table this year is fixins, not COVID,” Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, said.

Risk-based chart updates

On Tuesday, APH announced several updates to its risk-based chart for those who are high-risk, including:

  • Wearing masks at indoor gatherings with people outside your household at Stages 1 and 2
  • Wearing masks while dining and not eating or drinking at Stages 1 and 2
  • Wearing masks while shopping indoors at Stage 2
Austin Public Health’s updated COVID-19 risk-based guidelines (Courtesy of APH)

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