Austin’s top doctor hopes to drive plateau of curve downward as students head back to school

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As students head back to school, Austin’s top doctor hopes the city and Travis County can keep the curve going downward.

“I think it’s important for us as a community to understand that this thing is not going away. We are going to be living with it until we have an effective vaccine which is widely available, and we simply should not be willing to take significant risks of upsetting the balance,” Interim Medical Director and Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said to Travis County commissioners Tuesday.

In addition to the start of the new school year, Austin Public Health says its looking at other upcoming events that could lead to another drastic COVID-19 spike.

Among those events are Labor Day, which falls the Monday before the first official day of school for Austin Independent School District.

Escott says potential mass gatherings during that weekend — much like those during Memorial Day weekend — could undo any progress that’s been made to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

“I think doing things in a slow and methodical way is going to help prevent the surge that we may see if we just pack students back into schools in August or September,” Escott said.

Last week, Escott talked about the seven-day moving average for new confirmed COVID-19 cases and how as a community we’ve hit a plateau. Now, there seems to be some positive news.

“Now we appear to be oscillating a little bit, but overall over the past seven days or so we’ve been heading in a downward direction,” Escott explained.

Graph showing new confirmed COVID-19 cases for Travis County as of Aug. 11 (Austin Public Health Photo)

Escott also says Austin Public Health’s newest data shows that while young children remain the least affected by the virus, there is still what he calls “high activity” among that age group when it comes to hospitalizations.

“About 2.7% of hospitalizations this week were related to that 10-19 age group. You have seen across the country there has been a significant increase in the number of school-aged individuals who have contracted COVID-19, so we continue to pay close attention to that age group as we get close to September,” Escott said.

Escott says he’s touched based with hospital executives, who report there are plenty of beds and ventilators in hospitals right now in both general and ICU units.

Because of this, Escott reminded people that have been putting off getting elective procedures at hospitals to get them done now.

“The hospitals are in a much better place than they were a month ago,” he explained.

COVID-19 in communities of color

Austin Public Health continues to be concerned for the Black and Latinx community. Escott says both of those communities are over-represented in terms of hospitalizations.

Additionally, Escott says the Latinx community is showing a high positivity rate—14%. Ideally, Escott explains he’d like that to be under 5%.

Austin Public Health is continuing to provide outreach to these communities through neighborhood testing and distributing personal protective equipment, but that they have to be more vigilant with testing.

“We must continue…. to make sure folks are getting tested and to really further diminish those transmissions in our Latinx community,” Escott said.

Testing for COVID-19

Escott says testing has decreased significantly. He recounts that just a few weeks ago, there were more than 6,000 tests being done in one week in the community. But last week, Escott says we didn’t even hit 1,400.

“I do also want to point out… that we are seeing what’s being seen in many parts of the country right now, and that is a significant decrease in the testing that’s being done,” he said.

Escott says this is not because testing isn’t available, it’s that less and less people are signing up to get it done.

Because of the decrease, Escott says they’re opening testing to asymptomatic individuals. You can sign up for an assessment online.

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