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Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he is raising a yellow flag as COVID-19 caseloads, hospitalizations and positive test rates rise following the state's reopening and Memorial Day activities—county health officials agreed.


"This is a real surge that's happening," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during a virtual press conference this morning.

Over the last three days, Travis County has reported triple-digit growth in new cases. While the rolling average for new daily cases had been between around 40 and 60 cases, the average for the last three days has more than doubled, Dr. Escott said.

"Our concern is that this is a hockey stick appearance," he added, of the exponential growth.

Rising positive rates and hospitalizations

Austin Public Health has seen an uptick in its free testing service in the wake of recent protests and its related decision to expand access to asymptomatic residents. But Dr. Escott said the spike in cases is not merely reflective of expanded testing, as evidenced by the attendant increases in hospitalizations and positivity rate.

APH tests over the last week have returned positive results at a rate of 9.3%, where it had previously hovered around 5%. And yesterday the region saw a record number of new hospital admissions—24—bringing the total number of hospitalizations to 104.

These increases do not yet reflect cases related to recent protests against police brutality, Dr. Escott said, and instead are connected to testing conducted June 1-2.

Although the city has a surge plan in place and can expand its treatment capacity by building field hospitals, Adler said this is a scenario he hopes to avoid. "While we'll have beds, they're not the same kinds of beds [as those in hospitals]," he said. "People in those facilities don't get the same kind of care."

No second shutdown in sight

Despite these concerning trends, Dr. Escott emphasized the power of community response. Masking, practicing social distancing and maintaining good hygiene can help derail this surge.

In the meantime, local officials are not yet at the point of considering a second shutdown of businesses.

Health officials, with the help of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, have identified a rolling average of 20 new daily hospital admissions as a trigger point for intervention.

While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has restricted local governments in what enforceable actions they are able to take in the face of this pandemic, Dr. Escott and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said they are hopeful the state would support them should the hospitalization rate continue to increase.

"If we do reach that threshold, we are going to have to have more serious conversations with the state," Dr. Escott said, adding that every other major metropolitan area in Texas is seeing similar trends.

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