‘Individual responsibility’: Austin Public Health officials ask people not to gather for Labor Day weekend


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health officials met with media members Friday afternoon for the standing weekly briefing on the area’s COVID-19 response.

The teleconference featured APH Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott, APH Director Stephanie Hayden and APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette as speakers.

The meeting was moved from its usual Wednesday time slot due to the agency’s joint announcement with CommUnity Care and Central Health about free personal protective equipment distribution events.

No large gatherings for Labor Day

Mayor Steve Adler told KXAN earlier this week that he was nervous people might gather over Labor Day weekend and lead to an increase of cases when the area is finally seeing a decline.

In Friday’s briefing, Hayden said it’s time for Austinites to have courage and be an influencer by adhering to local health orders.

Dr. Escott asked people to be reasonable about how they celebrate. Having a BBQ among those who live in your household is okay, but inviting others over and gathering in large groups won’t help in the fight against COVID-19, he said.

“Just be smart this weekend,” Dr. Escott said, “but do what you can to help us mitigate this spread.”

He said it only takes a couple of weeks to have a major spike in cases again. While the area has seen a decrease in daily cases and less stress upon hospitals, Dr. Escott said we could pay for it later if we relax and celebrate now.

“Ultimately, it takes individual responsibility to adhere to the principles,” he said.

He asked Austinites to especially avoid bars, as they are not the right environment to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The last time bars opened, it was a disaster,” he said.

Clusters in schools and universities

Dr. Escott told Travis County commissioners earlier in the week that about 25% of COVID-19 cases in schools are coming from strength and conditioning programs for school athletics, particularly football. He said the cases are represented in four clusters across primary and secondary schools.

In Friday’s briefing, Dr. Escott called upon parents to properly prepare their children if they’re heading back for in-person learning. He advised them to pack extra masks, hand sanitizer and other supplies in their backpacks.

He also encouraged parents to have a plan ready for if their child presents symptoms. Daily screenings are a must and keeping them home when symptoms occur is important, he said.

“That’s the time when we need the vigilance of our parents out there to keep their child at home,” Dr. Escott said.

On Wednesday, the University of Texas at Austin reported 42 positive COVID-19 cases in students. Dr. Escott said the university’s cases accounted for 23% of the confirmed cases in Travis County over the last seven days.

Potential COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Pichette said APH hasn’t heard from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how much of a potential COVID-19 vaccine would be provided to Austin and Travis County, but she said they are planning on methods for distribution to residents.

She said APH is looking into a drive-thru vaccination option, if possible. They have used drive-thru options in the past, she said, and have had success with them being quick and efficient.

Pichette said they are also looking at how the H1N1 vaccine was rolled out in order to possibly implement the same methods.

Flu season

Dr. Escott encouraged Austinites to get their flu shot this season. Officials said they don’t want to battle both a bad flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic at the same time.

Dr. Escott said he doesn’t want extra strain to be put on hospitals, even though they’re in a good place to handle COVID-19 patients now.

As of Friday, the seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 hospitalizations is at 18, well within the Stage 3 risk level and creeping closer to Stage 2 levels. The area’s positivity rate is at 6.2%, and that’s something health officials want below 5% when school begins in the Austin Independent School District on Sept. 8.

The official start of flu season is Oct. 1, according to Dr. Escott.

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