Here’s what Austin health leaders are recommending ahead of holiday season

Coronavirus

Vials of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With decreased reported COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions, Austin Public Health leaders commended community efforts but said Austin-Travis County isn’t fully out of the woods with the pandemic.

As of Oct. 25, APH leaders said there are 269 cases reported, with a positivity rate — the rate of tests conducted that come back positive for COVID-19 — of 4.6%. The 7-day moving average of hospital admissions averages to 15, leaders said.

Currently, there are 145 patients hospitalized for COVID-19, with five in the intensive care unit and 43 on ventilators.

Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, said APH officials are closely monitoring developments in rising COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. Preliminary reports suggest these case upticks correlated with people not receiving their booster shots and relaxed masking and social distancing measures, she said.

“It’s important for our community to continue to get their primary series of vaccines if they’ve not been vaccinated and their booster vaccines too,” she said.

The University of Texas at Austin’s modeling group, who’ve worked with APH on risk-based guidance measures, said there could be a possible surge during the November-December time frame as more people visit with friends and loved ones indoors during the holiday season.

There have been three substantial COVID-19 surges in Texas and Travis County: during June-August 2020, November 2020-February 2021 and from July-October 2021.

During the first surge, a lack of vaccines led to heightened reliance on masking and social distancing; in the second surge, there was an added benefit of vaccines alongside safety measures.

In the latest surge, she said it was a combination of continued masking, vaccines and monoclonal antibody therapy to protect residents as much as possible. Despite the emergence of the U.K. and delta COVID-19 variants, she said vaccines have largely held up and prevented severe illness, hospitalization and death in the majority of vaccinated people.

Many COVID-19 transmissions occur in small, intimate settings, Walkes said; with that in mind, she said the holidays will be a crucial time for residents to remain vigilant in their safety practices.

She said residents should continue to get vaccinated and consider getting tested if they feel any cold-like symptoms or have recently been in a high-exposure environment. If eligible for a booster shot, she said residents should receive one as soon as possible to more safely enjoy the holidays.

If meeting with people outside one’s household in an indoor setting, Walkes said residents should consider masking. Outdoor gatherings are most ideal and effective in preventing COVID-19 transmissions, she added.

“Let’s maintain this level of calm. Let’s give our hospital staffs and our clinic staffs and our APH staff a break,” she said. “Let’s be able to celebrate the holiday season together safely and in a healthy way.”

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