AUSTIN (KXAN) — At the six-month point of the COVID-19 pandemic in Austin-Travis County, Austin Public Health officials pleaded to people to push past fatigue and to “stay vigilant” during a media briefing Wednesday.
They encouraged people to get a flu shot early to help keep hospital beds free. Dr. Mark Escott, APH interim health authority, said hospitals “are in a great situation right now” with no capacity issues right now, but last year during flu season, ICUs were full.
“There was no room for an extra disease last year. Our hope is folks will act now and get a flu shot,” Dr. Escott said.
Escott also addressed the upcoming University of Texas at Austin home football game Satutday against UTEP, and he said with the current positivity rate of 4.6%, the area can expect 40-50 people to come down with COVID-19 with the current 25% stadium capacity.
“Our gathering limit is 10, and having about 25,000 people in one place is a bit concerning,” Dr. Escott said.
In addition to the football game, UT’s student population has seen an increase in COVID-19 and a big reason for it, health officials say, are large gatherings by fraternities and sororities.
APH sent all of the organizations letters about why it’s important to limit large gatherings, and current rules and regulations regarding the pandemic.
“We’re asking that students take the lead,” Dr. Escott said. “We have to be partners with our college students and we value them … but we can’t tolerate activity that will place the rest of us in danger.”
With schools back in session, and districts now just beginning to allow more students back on campus, public health data says the 10-19 age group makes up 6.1% of the total positive cases in the area. That’s the highest the rate has ever been for the age group during the pandemic.
Dr. Escott said there’s not a lot of data on how COVID-19 affects young children, so he said that’s of concern.
“The schools are doing a great job at trying to prevent transmission, but they can’t prevent it 100%,” he said. “We’re going to have to pay close attention and adjust expectations based on hospitalization rates as schools go back into session.”
APH Director Stephanie Hayden said she’s seen a couple studies that noted the age group is more of a carrier of the disease and can pass it along to anybody, including parents and others adults who come in close contact with them.
“We want to protect the young people, but we also want to protect the staff and families they go home to,” Hayden said.
When asked about the success of the Latinx Health Equity Team, Hayden said APH is developing two other “strike teams” for the Black and Asian communities.
“Now that we have implemented some strategies in that population to target specific zip codes as well as outreach efforts … and ultimately the strike teams will work together,” Hayden said.
In order to get to Stage 2, which Dr. Escott said he hoped to achieve in the next 30 days, the public has to continue to wear masks, social distance and keep on top of personal hygiene.
He said if the positivity rate gets below 3%, and the 7-day rolling new hospitalization average dips below 10, we’ll be there — but it will still take the same amount effort from people as it took to get to the current point.
“Great job, Austin and Travis County,” Dr. Escott said. “Your work, patience and vigilance has paid off … but we have to remember that COVID-19 isn’t gone. It’s still out there, and it still wants to infect people. So let’s stay the course, and watch football at home this year.”