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A rising number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases and an increasing positivity rate at city-run drive-thru testing sites are evidence that a surge is looming, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County commissioners this morning.

"Certainly based on our modeling, as well as some of the other dynamics that we're seeing in the community, including increasing risk-taking behaviors, decreasing use of masks and social distancing, anecdotally, we certainly expect to see a surge begin to happen," Dr. Escott said.

Yesterday, Austin Public Health recorded a new record for the number of new confirmed cases: 86.

"This is about two to three weeks after the reopening of the state, and this is about the time we'd expect to see an increase in cases as a result of that change in policy," Dr. Escott said.

Another piece of evidence suggestive of a surge is an increasing rate of positive COVID-19 test results.

Since Austin Public Health in mid-April debuted a public enrollment system, which allows residents to sign up for free testing at drive-thru sites, the testing capacity has increased—although resources are still limited. Up until mid-May, the positive rate was hovering around 3% to 4%, but last week it was 8.5%.

"Again, this indicates to us that we are starting to see the beginnings of a surge," Dr. Escott said.

County commissioners spoke about news coverage showing hoards of revelers congregating at Lake Travis and bars on Rainey and Sixth streets; the mayor has, on social media, asked people to be more cautious.

"The public is hearing mixed messages," Dr. Escott said, with one side pushing for economic recovery and the other urging confinement. "We've got to be in the middle somewhere."

A sharp increase in cases could overwhelm the local healthcare system and force a second economic shutdown. To avoid this outcome, Dr. Escott stressed the need for continued caution and urged residents to wear masks while in public, and to practice social distancing.

"We're seeing what happens when we're successful at prevention because it's not real yet to the community. They don't know people by name who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 or died," he said. "I know all the names."


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