(City of Austin)

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott was joined by local health care workers at a virtual press conference on Wednesday.

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said he will recommend a second shutdown if the current surge of COVID-19 cases in Travis County is not contained.


"If the situation doesn't improve in the next week to two weeks—I'm going to have to make a recommendation to the mayor and the [county] judge that we shut down," he said at a virtual press conference earlier today. "And I don't want to do that."

Though Escott can make the recommendation, local jurisdictions have little authority to actually implement a shutdown.



Dr. Escott was joined by local health care professionals at the event, who echoed his pleas to Austin residents that they stay home, when possible, in addition to wearing masks and socially distancing when they are out.

"The lid's off," he said. "We've got to put it back on."

Modeling from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin shows Travis County's caseload could double—jumping to 13,000 from the current estimate of 6,600—in the next 18 days.

At that rate, the five-county region could see its hospital capacity overwhelmed, Dr. Escott said.

Dr. John Abikhaled, president of the Travis County Medical Society, said Austin residents have risen to this challenge before.

"During the lockdown, we did something amazing. We proved that we can control the virus and flatten the curve," he said. "But then we got tired. We got a little stir crazy. And we lowered our guard."

New local orders took effect yesterday, requiring businesses to mandate masking among employees and customers after a protracted back-and-forth with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

While Abbott encouraged Texans to wear masks and stay home in a statement issued yesterday, he has also said that he does not plan to pull back on the state's reopening for the time being.

Dr. Christopher Ziebell, chief of emergency medicine at Dell Seton Medical Center, asked residents to stay home as much as possible and wear a mask in public, even if it feels like an infringement on personal liberty.

"While you are free to do the wrong thing, you are also free to do the right thing," he said.

St. David's Emergency Care Specialist Dr. Ann Buchanan said area hospitals have been planning for a surge for months and are prepared to respond to one. But her colleagues added that it is a worst-case scenario.

"We do not want to provide care for you at the Austin Convention Center," said Dr. Kirsten Nieto, an internal medicine and pediatric hospitalist at Dell Children's and Dell Seton. "We want you to stay home."

(Austonia staff)

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