COVID-19 in Austin-Travis County: ‘This is not an Election Day gimmick. This is real,’ top doctor warns

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s now a 96% chance that the spread of COVID-19 is increasing in Austin-Travis County.

In a Q&A session on Wednesday, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott explained the percentage has increased from 90% in a short amount of time — with 64 new cases of COVID-19 occurring over the past 14 days.

“Our cases are rising, the number of people admitted to the hospital are rising, our ICU numbers are rising, our ventilator use is rising,” Dr. Escott said. “This is not an Election Day gimmick. This is real.”

On possible second surge

Austin-Travis County is moving closer to Stage 3 level of precautions, Escott says — and Stage 4 could happen in the next several weeks.

“This is a potential, or most likely future, if things don’t change,” he warned. “We can flatten the curve once again in Travis County and be in a better situation by Thanksgiving.”

Statewide, Escott says predictions indicate a 257% increase in cases between now and Nov. 14., based on transmission and mobility staying the same. Depending on how people behave, the numbers could be better or worse, Escott says.

On Halloween

Ahead of Halloween, Escott urges residents to exercise caution if they hope to improve the situation before other holidays this year.

“If we want to avoid having a very ugly Thanksgiving, we’ve got to be very safe this Halloween.”

Dr. Mark Escott

On in-person voting

In addition to Halloween, there’s also still the aforementioned presidential and local election happening right now. As thousands in Travis County turn out to vote early ahead of Nov. 3, Escott also commended precautions taken while voting.

In-person voting precautions Escott approves of include mask wearing and staying six feet apart from other voters — in addition to polling sites utilizing latex finger guards and touchless processing.

“The risk of transmission is extremely low for in-person voting,” Escott assured.

On ‘COVID-19 fatigue’

Escott was joined by APH Director Stephanie Hayden and APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette who also answered questions.

One topic that was emphasized during the meeting was the concept of being bored of the pandemic and its impact on our ability to do things freely.

“I understand that we’re getting exhausted and that as time moves on, this does get to be a difficult task,” Hayden said. “We have relaxed — and I understand it’s due to fatigue. But we cannot let our guard down. We must continue the path.”

Hayden urged residents to continue wearing masks, washing hands and staying home if they’re not feeling well.

Meanwhile, Pichette reminded those who are awaiting test results that their quarantine does not end because they’ve had a test.

“You cannot test yourself out of quarantine,” Pichette said. “You will still need to quarantine for a 14-day period based on your very last exposure to a case.”

On flu season

Hayden encouraged people to get a flu shot.

“It is flu season. It is upon us,” warned Hayden. “Please reach out if you have insurance. Contact your insurance. Contact a pharmacy. You can show up to a pharmacy — you can get the flu shot there.”

For residents with no insurance, Hayden explained that Austin Public Health is hosting an event on Saturday at the Austin Public Library’s Southeast Branch from 8 a.m. to noon.

On the weeks ahead

“We can’t change the weather,” Escott said of impatience with current conditions. “But we can change what the future holds for us in terms of COVID-19.”

Escott continued to warn that Thanksgiving could be a breaking point, but that if residents use safety practices and continue social distancing, it doesn’t have to be.

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