Never miss a story
Sign up for our free daily morning email...
...and afternoon text update
×
becomeMemberIcon

become a member

(Pexels)

Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott reported that the local COVID-19 caseload, related hospital admissions and positivity rate continue to climb reaching the Stage 5 threshold. With "the one-two punch" of Christmas and New Year's Eve on the horizon, and the lingering "Thanksgiving effect," he implored Austinites to help reduce spread—but held off on recommending a move to Stage 5.


"We do need people to wear their masks, to socially distance, to wash their hands and not go out if they're sick," he said Tuesday. "If people do that, then we don't need to make a recommendation to close things down."

The key indicator for Stage 5, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, is a moving daily average of 50 or more COVID-related hospital admissions. Travis County crossed this threshold on Monday.

At Stage 5, APH guidelines recommend Austinites avoid all gatherings outside of the home and avoid any nonessential trips.

However, Escott said he and his public health colleagues plan to monitor the situation for several days before making a recommendation on the current risk level and other restrictions, such as another shutdown.

Escott would like to avoid such a scenario and said that the next steps would be to ask state officials to close a loophole that allows certain bars to remain open and to curtail extracurricular activities at area schools, both of which have been traced to recent cases.

The overall positivity rate in Travis County is now 9.9%, which is nearly double what it was last month. It is especially high—nearly 25%—among the 20-29 age group, according to APH data, which Escott attributed to bars that allow for crowded, face-to-face interactions sans masks.

"We have many bars that are not behaving well," he said, listing 25 establishments that have recently been cited—some multiple times—for violating local and state pandemic rules. They include Unbarlievable on Rainey Street, Yellow Jacket Social Club on East Fifth Street and Rose Room at the Domain.

In the last week, more than 1,400 students and staff at Travis County school districts have quarantined due to possible exposure to the coronavirus. Escott cited basketball as well as social gatherings among students and parents—a soccer team photo shoot, a parents' trip to Fredericksburg—as a major cause of these new cases.

A vaccine update

As the caseload continues to grow in Austin and around the state, healthcare providers are working to administer COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which promise the best line of defense against future spread.

Travis County hospital facilities received 13,650 doses of the Pfizer vaccine last week. Area pharmacies and private practices were added to the mix this week, when an additional 18,325 doses—mostly from Moderna—will be distributed.

In addition to frontline healthcare workers, EMS first responders—including Escott, who also serves the EMS System Medical Director—are first in line to receive the current vaccine supply. Next week, long-term care facilities such as nursing homes will begin to administer vaccines to residents on-site through a state partnership with Walgreens and CVS.

These populations have been prioritized because they will help bolster our healthcare system in case of a worsening surge and protect those at highest risk of hospitalization and death. People 50 years of age and older have accounted for 94% of Travis County's 522 COVID deaths.

There are approximately 80,000 healthcare workers and 205,000 residents 50 years of age and older or with underlying conditions in Travis County.

"By focusing on a relatively small number of people and getting them vaccinated effectively, we can decrease the threat of overwhelming our healthcare system relatively quickly," Escott said.

Popular

Artist Chris Rogers painted this East Austin mural after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, center. Mike Ramos, third from left, was shot to death by an Austin police officer on April 24. (Austonia)

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three charges—second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter—in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose final moments were recorded by onlookers, sparking a global protest movement over police violence and racial injustice. He faces up to 40 years in prison.

Jurors deliberated for 10 hours over two days after an intense, three-week trial before reaching a verdict Tuesday afternoon, four days shy of the first anniversary of the Austin police killing of Mike Ramos, an unarmed, 42-year-old Black and Hispanic man whose name became a rallying cry—along with Floyd's—for Austin protestors, who marched en masse last summer, prompting some police reforms.

Keep Reading Show less

Miami and Austin are going head-to-head for tech transplants. (Pexels)

Californians love Texas, and Austin—with its liberal politics, relatively affordable housing and job opportunities—is particularly adored. In fact, the Lone Star State was the main recipient of departing Californians in 2019, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau data.

But other states, including Florida, are seeing increased interest. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has made a name for himself on Twitter recruiting techies and hyping up his city, which has a lot in common with Austin—with the added benefit of a beach and sans the "Don't California my Texas" attitude.

Keep Reading Show less

(Austin FC/Twitter)

In the days after Austin FC's inaugural match against LAFC on Saturday, Head Coach Josh Wolff says he's watched the game "a number of times, to say the least."

In the match, Wolff and over 500,000 other viewers looked on as Austin FC took to the pitch for the first time, held their own in the first half against LAFC and eventually fell 2-0 to a team that's sometimes regarded as the best in the league.

Keep Reading Show less