AUSTIN (KXAN) — Cultivating curious kids and imaginative minds can be challenging when you’re also trying to stop sickness.

“In the wintertime, we would always have a number of cases. It just seems like it’s much higher this particular flu season, for example, and RSV season, than it has been in the past,” said Dawn Leach, manager of the Austin Community College Children’s Lab.

She’s not wrong. According to data from Austin Public Health, a larger percentage of patients are visiting doctors and hospitals for flu-like illnesses so far this year than in recent years.

This chart from APH shows more people are going to the doctor/hospital for flu-like sicknesses this year, indicated by the red line, than in recent years. (Source: Austin Public Health)
This chart from APH shows more people are going to the doctor/hospital for flu-like sicknesses this year, indicated by the red line, than in recent years. (Source: Austin Public Health)

Austin-Travis County’s community transmission rate for COVID-19 is also high right now.

“Right now, we’re in that ‘tripledemic’ situation where we also have flu and RSV and other respiratory illnesses that are spreading, because all of these things spread the same way,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin health authority and APH medical director.

She said the community level for COVID-19 is low, which means although it’s spreading fast, the virus hasn’t impacted or strained the local health care system, yet.

Walkes said the other respiratory diseases are hitting hospitals.

“There are long wait times to be seen, and people are having to be held in the ER that need to be admitted to the hospital for longer periods of time than usual because the beds are full,” Walkes said.

She said they’re seeing clusters of outbreaks in child care centers, schools and long-term care facilities.

Leach, who serves 44 kids during the day at ACC’s Children’s Lab School, said they’ve only seen isolated cases so far of respiratory illnesses. She credits that to safety protocols, like increasing cleaning.

“We’ve sort of upped our game in that respect by doing frequently touched surfaces like door handles,” she said.

Leach said although they don’t require masks, they recommend them.

“We have actually had 100% compliance with wearing masks because my teachers know that if they get sick, I may have to shut a classroom down,” she said.

Leach said distributions hosted by APH and Workforce Solutions Capital Area have been a huge help.

  • Austin Public Health and Workforce Solutions Capital Area team up for a PPE supply distribution event on Dec. 9 at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center on Webberville Road. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)
  • Austin Public Health and Workforce Solutions Capital Area team up for a PPE supply distribution event on Dec. 9 at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center on Webberville Road. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)
  • Austin Public Health and Workforce Solutions Capital Area team up for a PPE supply distribution event on Dec. 9 at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center on Webberville Road. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)
  • Austin Public Health and Workforce Solutions Capital Area team up for a PPE supply distribution event on Dec. 9 at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center on Webberville Road. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)
  • Austin Public Health and Workforce Solutions Capital Area team up for a PPE supply distribution event on Dec. 9 at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center on Webberville Road. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)
  • Austin Public Health and Workforce Solutions Capital Area team up for a PPE supply distribution event on Dec. 9 at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center on Webberville Road. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

“The cost of gloves has probably tripled or quadrupled since the pandemic started. It has been a huge, huge help, in terms of being able to stretch your budget,” she said.

She said her center has picked up boxes of supplies four or five times now. They also include masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and COVID-19 tests.

“I’m going to send those home with my families and ask if they’re traveling would they test or if they’re gathering with other family members would they test before they return? I can’t require it but I’m going to ask,” Leach said.

Walkes hopes the supplies help centers mitigate the spread of illnesses ahead of the holidays.

She said one modeling projection shows COVID and flu cases increasing even more through the holidays.

Walkes recommends families test before visiting each other, especially before visiting vulnerable people like older people. She also recommends masking for four days before your gathering to make sure you won’t be bringing an illness to your event.

APH will be at the Burnet Holiday Fair on Saturday with COVID-19 and flu vaccines. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Burnet Middle School. 

Travis County also has some vaccine clinics set for Saturday. 

Although there aren’t any more PPE distribution events scheduled, APH said child care centers can request supplies using this online form.