Austin Health: Canceling SXSW won’t make us safer


10:30 a.m.: Question and answer session

Escott: Testing is done only at the state facility. No hospitals will administer tests.

“We are also concerned because SXSW has been so engaged in helping us mitigate, that if we shut it down people will come to this community anyway, they are going to go to restaurants and public gatherings anyway, but we wont have the messaging, we wont have the hand sanitizer, we won’t have the additional mitigation steps SXSW has really been partners with us on.”

10:26 a.m.: Austin mayor Steve Adler takes the podium

“We hear the concern.”

Everyone should know that the primary and only consideration right now is ensuring, as best we can, the safety and health of the people that live in our community. That’s the guiding principals. At this point, there’s no evidence that cancelling SXSW makes us safer.”

“The question is being reevaluated and reconsidered multiple times a day. If that changes, we will immediately implement the recommendation.”

“No corporations or anyone else has a seat at the table in decision-making. We want to keep the community safe.”

10:25 a.m.: Judge Sarah Eckhart takes the podium

“Our public health officials review every one of our mass gatherings and make sure proper measures are in place.”

“I would ask the community, and strongly suggest, that panic will weaken us. Let’s do what our mothers taught us. Let’s wash our hands and be good neighbors. Let evidence-based decisions dictate our actions.”

10:20 a.m.: Dr. Mark Escott takes the podium

“Right now there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.”

“There could be modifications, but the question is, “Are we there now?”

The advisory panel wants more information before making the call to cancel SXSW.

The concern is people will still come here if SXSW is cancelled. SXSW has been extremely responsive when it comes to mitigating risks. SXSW agreed to screen employees prior to working.

“Where is the risk the most, and how can we mitigate it?”

People 65 years and older are at most risk.

“It’s probably more deadly than flu, but it’s not ebola, it’s not SARS, it’s not MERS.”

10:15 a.m.: The press conference has started.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim APH authority: “An all-government, all-community effort is what it takes to deal with this new threat.”

“Today, the threat of community spread in Austin is low. However, we’re prepared for it if it happens. We are actively prepared, and we’re doing that through engagement with all members of the community.”

“Tests here are still pending, and that information should be available later today or tomorrow.”

Escott stressed that no tests have come back positive.

Escott convened an expert advisory panel, a dozen or more doctors from around the state and representatives from higher education and public schools.


AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S., Austin leaders held a press conference Wednesday to update the community on the steps being taken to ensure residents’ safety.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler will be joined by Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin Public Health interim health authority.

Dr. Escott, like he said at Tuesday’s Travis County Commissioners Court meeting, stressed than simply cancelling a mass gathering, like South by Southwest (SXSW), won’t necessarily make things more safe.

“Right now, there is no evidence that closing SXSW, or any other gathering, would make the community safer,” Dr. Escott said.

Escott said he and his advisory panel, made up of doctors and others authorities, reevaluate and reconsider the question of potentially cancelling mass gatherings “multiple times a day.” He said the advisory panel needs more information to make that kind of decision.

“There could be modifications, but the question is, ‘Are we there now?'”

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart told people to “do what their mothers taught them,” to stay healthy.

“Wash your hands, and be a good neighbor,” she said.

On Tuesday, the new coronavirus’ death toll in Washington jumped from six to nine in a matter of hours. The spread there is mainly associated with a nursing facility.

As COVID-19 continues to spread in Washington, as well as other states, local nursing and retirement homes are taking proactive steps to protect their communities.

“Even with the risk being low, you always want to take a proactive approach because all it takes is one person getting ill and not being properly monitored,” said Christine Moss, Executive Director of Poet’s Walk Round Rock.

The Williamson County memory care community provides around-the-clock care to 35 people.

“We know that the residents are [the] highest risk potential for infectious disease process having an adverse effect,” said Moss. “A resident’s health can change so quickly.”

Moss told KXAN most of their residents are in their 70s or 80s. They have someone who is 100-years-old as well.

With COVID-19, she’s doing more training with her staff.

“We’re always big on training, so ensuring that our staff understands what kind of precautions are to be taken. That it’s not airborne. It is a droplet,” Moss said.

For visitors, Moss told KXAN, “We have hand washing stations before anyone enters the community, so they can ensure that if they happen to touch any hard surfaces, they’re not bringing anything in with them.”

For residents, Moss said, “Always making sure first that you wash your hands before you eat is a very important part. Staying hydrated is also an important part in staying healthy.”

KXAN also reached out to Buckner Retirements Services, which is a nonprofit that operates retirement communities in Texas.

They said, Buckner Retirement Services is:

  1. Activating its Emergency Preparedness and Operations teams at each of the six campuses and holding a regular conference call with the teams from the six campuses. This process includes coordinating with local first responders and health care facilities in case emergency response for a resident or staff is necessary.
  2. Reviewing the Emergency Preparedness Manual and re-educating staff about infectious disease policies and procedures.
  3. Reviewing the BRS infection control protocol, inventorying supplies, and preparing employees through information and education.
  4. Launching a communications campaign internally for all stakeholders, including signs and posters in all communities. These Buckner-themed posters contain specific information about stopping the spread of germs and viruses.
  5. Directing staff exhibiting signs of sickness to stay home.
  6. Communicating with residents and family members that Buckner is taking this seriously and that we are taking every reasonable precaution.

Tuesday, Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Health Authority with Austin Public Health assured the public, “There may be a time in the future where the stakes are higher. We are not there today.”

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