Austin’s health authority warns of potential El Paso-level coronavirus surge locally

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In his weekly briefing with Travis County commissioners Tuesday, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott gave a sobering warning about coronavirus spread in the community.

Escott said the county will move to Stage 5 when 50 to 60 people are being hospitalized daily. University of Texas projections show that could happen as soon as next week.

He warned if behavior doesn’t change communitywide, Austin could see a surge in cases like El Paso has before long.

“What we’re talking about is two or three weeks from now and trying to prevent that from happening, trying to prevent having to call the state and federal government to send us hundreds of healthcare workers, to send us trailers so that we can store bodies. We don’t want to do that. And we don’t have to do that. But it does take us today making those decisions to protect ourselves, to protect our community,” Escott said somberly.

Escott told commissioners as of Tuesday, the community has seen a 45% increase in cases since the beginning of December. He added with the number of COVID-19 patients currently occupying hospital beds, only about 40 to 50 ICU beds are currently available in the area.

Escott said if Travis County enters Stage 5, APH plans to ask schools to help cut down on their biggest contributor to virus spread.

“The primary concern relayed to risk in schools, particularly as we look at the possibility of entering Stage 5, is extracurricular activities. By and large, that is where we’re seeing disease spread. Extracurricular activities on campus as well as when those student athletes, dance team, cheerleaders are practicing outside the school environment in private gyms,” Escott said. “So if we hit Stage 5, we’re going to ask them to decrease that risk. We’re going to ask them to stop extracurricular activities, and if they can’t stop them to significantly scale back.”

Escott said the issue isn’t only with student athlete practices.

“Conveniently enough, it happens that the entire student athlete population has a medical illness that prevents them from wearing a mask when they’re participating in activities,” he said. “I hear from parents of our local basketball players who are upset that their school district requires masks to be worn during basketball games, yet the opposing team has no masks.”

Escott says APH is already talking with local superintendents, and the message is clear.

“If an activity can’t happen with a mask and with distancing, it probably shouldn’t happen,” he said.

Escott added other major contributors to the virus spread are bars posing as restaurants. He says even with the re-classification, too many are still operating as bars, where people are not seated and properly distancing.

While Escott discourages going out to bars or restaurants right now, he’s calling for people to continue to support local restaurants by ordering and picking up food.

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