AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Hispanic community outreach task force will be established in Austin in response to high COVID-19 rates among the local Latinx community, health leaders said Wednesday morning.

Figures released by Austin Public Health last week indicated that Hispanic residents in Travis County are being hospitalized with COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate, and that rate continues to increase.

During a news briefing, APH director Stephanie Hayden said a task force is being developed to tackle this issue.

“We are absolutely going to do everything we can to improve the health among our Latinx community,” Hayden said.

She said the task force will be targeting specific zip codes where offficials have noticed a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases. Some of these zip codes are aligned with zip codes where health disparities were noticed even before the coronavirus pandemic, Hayden said.

APH has not yet set a date for when the task force will begin operations.

KXAN News Today anchor Sally Hernandez asked the questions at the first weekly briefing held by local health leaders to address the COVID-19 response.

During the call, interim health authority Mark Escott was asked about the possibility of mass events – such as the Austin City Limits music festival and Texas Longhorns football – taking place this year.

In response, Dr Escott said public events where more than 2,500 people gather may not return this year.

“Looking through the end of December, we don’t have any indications at this stage that we would be able to mitigate risk enough to have large events, particularly ones over 2,500 [people],” he said.

According to a risk guidelines chart released by APH last week, Austin is currently in Stage 3 – which means people should maintain social distancing, wear face coverings in public and only healthy, low-risk people should travel anywhere.

Dr Escott said COVID-19-related hospitalizations must decrease before APH can consider moving Austin to Stage 2.

“We really have to get to that green level, that Stage 1, before we are going to be willing to have any sizable events,” he added.

The city says APH staff is working around the clock on its COVID-19 response, but “understands and values the importance of media to communicate to the public about their safety.”