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Travis County is once again seeing a decline in the number of new confirmed COVID cases and related hospitalizations after a brief plateau, but more kids are testing positive and being hospitalized with the virus, the county's top health official said Tuesday.
Area hospitals are reporting increased capacity and adequate staffing after two months of operating in surge mode, and the positivity rate among COVID tests conducted by and reported to Austin Public Health is declining.
"Our hope is at this stage, we're pushing past that plateau," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told county commissioners during their weekly meeting.
But despite the progress, Escott said, there has been an increasing portion of children ages 10-19 testing positive for and being hospitalized with COVID-19. The age group accounted for more than 5% of the positive test results reported Aug. 4-10.
Children ages 10-19 had the highest or second-highest rate of positivity in the county in recent weeks, Escott said.
In the last week, 2.7% of the metro's hospitalizations were among children ages 10-19, which he said was higher than what the metro area had been seeing. It also mirrors national trends, he said, which are attributed to a variety of things including less frequent testing of asymptomatic children.
Nonetheless, Escott said, children ages 10-19 with known exposure should be tested to prevent an additional spread.
"You have seen that across the country there's been a significant increase in the number of school-aged individuals who have contracted COVID-19," Escott said.
School guidance coming
APH will recommend, in guidance coming this week, that area schools resume in-person classes at 25% capacity for the first two to three weeks, an idea that Escott has floated before.
"We want to make sure that the schools can manage the disease spread and new processes with a small number of students before we take on any additional risk," Escott said. "Having said that, I think doing things in a slow and methodical way is going to prevent the surge we may see if we just pack students back into school in August or September."
Continued declines in the number of new cases and hospitalizations are critical if schools are to reopen safely on Sept. 8, Escott said, especially as Labor Day and the prospect of college football games threaten to increase community transmission in the short term.
Although Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in recent nonbinding guidance that local health officials don't have the authority to shut down schools due to COVID-19, Escott feels he is within his rights to give his professional opinion.
"From my perspective, I believe I have the legal authority to do that," Escott said.
Disinterest in testing
Escott also noted that interest in testing is declining.
In late July, Austin Public Health was conducting more than 6,000 tests a week. Over the last week or so, however, it has conducted fewer than 1,400 because of a lack of demand. As a result, the department is expanding its free service to some asymptomatic individuals.
Last week, Escott attributed the decline to fewer cases emerging, a side effect of the decline and plateau the area has seen recently.
But residents have also complained in recent weeks about free tests that take days or weeks to return results, along with long lines - either of which may account for part of the decline. APH has reported improvement in both of those areas.
On Tuesday, APH discouraged employers from requiring employees to provide proof of multiple negative test results as a condition of returning to work.
This places an "unnecessary financial burden on the employee," APH said.
Instead, individuals who have had COVID should stay home at least 10 days following the onset of symptoms before returning to work, according to CDC recommendations.
Police have arrested one of two suspects involved in a mass shooting at Austin's Sixth Street in the early morning hours on Saturday, leaving 14 people injured and two in critical condition.
The arrest was made by the Austin Police Department and the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force. One suspect is still at large.
Police started receiving 911 phone calls at 1:24 a.m about a man that fired shots into a large crowd, and responded to a chaotic scene on the 400 block of East Sixth Street. Detectives are surveying video footage captured by bystanders and cameras on the scene to identify the suspect.
The Austin Police Department has narrowed down their search to two male suspects and believes there was "some type of disturbance" between the two parties.
No deaths have been reported. Fourteen victims are receiving treatment in a hospital in stable condition with one treated in an emergency room; two are in critical condition.
According to Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon, "almost all" of the victims are innocent bystanders but police have not ruled anyone out at this time.
Shooting on 6th Street Austin Texas 6-12-2021 (Aftermath) youtu.be
The shooting occurred on the weekend of the Republic of Texas Motorcycle Rally. With lots of people downtown, police say it was difficult to get EMS in and out of the scene. Police arrived while the scene was still an "active threat," officers "immediately began lifesaving measures" and drove six victims to the hospital in their squad cars, said Chacon, and four were transported in ambulances.
Chacon said that the incident is believed to be isolated, and they optimistic they will be successful in getting the two suspects into custody. Multiple departments, including APD, the FBI, Texas DPS and the ATF, are involved in the investigation.
Austin police are also requesting state troopers for patrol assistance in the coming days. Chacon stressed staffing issues are increasingly making responding to emergency calls "very hard."
"Overall, we remain a safe city," Chacon said. "Also keep in mind when you come downtown, you need to be safety conscious. Be vigilant of your environment and your surroundings."
Today marks the five-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in which 49 were killed and 53 wounded in Orlando, Florida. Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call 911 or 512-472-TIPS.
This story was updated at 2:47 p.m. to include new information and will be updated as more details are revealed.
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Austin police are investigating a homicide in North Austin where a woman was shot and killed, just hours after a mass shooting in Downtown Austin hospitalized 14 people.
APD is working a suspicious death near the 1900 block of W Rundberg Ln. PIO is en route and will update with media staging location. PIO6
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) June 12, 2021
Police originally responded to Ironhorse Flats Apartments, 1900 block of W. Rundberg Lane, at 3:20 p.m. when they found the woman with multiple gunshot wounds. She was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 4:07 p.m.
No one is in custody as of yet but police are speaking with potential witnesses. Officials said they believe this was an isolated incident with no danger to the public but said possible relation to the downtown shooting has not been specifically ruled out.
Officers could not provide a suspect description and the relationship to the victim is still unknown.
This is a developing story that will be updated as details become available.
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