Travis County cases plateauing, but keep wearing masks and social distancing


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County health officials delivered some refreshing, much-needed good news on the COVID-19 front during a media briefing Wednesday, but also stressed that the virus is far from gone.

Austin Public Health Interim Authority Dr. Mark Escott, along with APH Director Stephanie Hayden and APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette all thanked the public for helping contribute to the area’s plateau and slight decrease in both new cases and hospital admissions.

“This is evidence of a community working together,” Dr. Escott said. “But now’s not the time to stop.”

Statewide, Texas has a record number of hospitalizations Tuesday, so that serves as another reminder that the fight against the virus is still in the early rounds.

Dr. Escott said the area needs to get to at least Stage 3 in the risk-based guidelines before students can safely go back into the classroom, and he prefers the area get to Stage 2.

Stage 3 levels of new hospitals admissions is a rolling 7-day average of 10-39, and Stage 2 is less than 10.

“I’m hoping the governor’s orders, and our orders within the City of Austin for mask use and closing the parks, have had a positive impact on our community,” Pichette said.

The Fourth of July holiday was two weeks ago, and Dr. Escott is hoping the area avoids a spike from people potentially gathering to celebrate. San Antonio is currently seeing a spike in cases that aligns with the timetable of infections coming from the holiday, so the hope is Austin won’t have the same fate.

“We’ll need to continue to watch this week. I think if we don’t see a bounce this week in terms of new cases and hospitalizations, then we can say we avoided the significant outbreak during July 4,” Dr. Escott said.

APH updated risk-based guidelines chart as of June 26, 2020 (APH)

Last week, Dr. Escott said there were a record-number of tests by APH, approximately 6,000, and along with the public’s collective behavior limiting trips in public spaces and wearing masks (and encouraging others to wear a masks), Dr. Escott firmly believes raw case numbers are on the decline.

“I think cases are going down,” he said. “But now’s not the time to dance. We still need to be cautious. We’ve got a lot of work to do, still.”

Hospitals are “doing well” when it comes to capacity, Dr. Escott said. He said the field hospital set up inside the Austin Convention Center is a contingency plan and hopes the city doesn’t have to use it at all. He said they’ve requested help from the Texas Department of Emergency Management for staffing at the field hospital, and the Travis County Medical Society has found people to work there if the time comes.

“There’s space, stuff and staff,” Dr. Escott said. “We have the space, we have the stuff, and we need the staff.”

Hayden said officials continue to encourage all the behaviors that have got the numbers to, at the least, stop going up.

“We’ve just got to hold the line,” Hayden said. “COVID-19 is still here, and it’s going to take everybody is get though it.”

Like he has before, Dr. Escott stressed that public health messaging is rooted in facts and data, not “politics and other nefarious reasons.” He’s been pleased to see that political messaging he’s seen has been about unifying against the virus.

“This is what we need,” Dr. Escott said. “I think people have been confused about masking or not, social distancing or not … I’m grateful that we’ve been able to come together to this extent that the message is clear. Social distancing is going to be here for awhile, and masking will be here for awhile. It’s essential that all of us come together.”

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