(Austonia staff)

After Memorial Day festivities were attributed as a cause of the surge in COVID-19 cases earlier this summer, Austin health officials warned residents against gathering this Labor Day.

Despite recent progress, including a declining positivity rate among COVID-19 tests, local officials warned Austinites that the region could quickly reverse course if precautions are not upheld over the weekend and as students continue their return to school.

"Labor Day weekend is not the time to crowd bars, to have barbecues and to gather with family," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Friday. "Now is the time to stay the course because if we change our behaviors, three weeks from now we could be back where we were in June and July with increased cases and uncontrollable spread."


The surge earlier this summer was attributed, in part, to Memorial Day festivities.

Ahead of the weekend, Escott and his colleagues at Austin Public Health asked residents to wear masks, social distance, wash hands and limit their activities to those that are essential.

"We're not saying you have to lock yourself in your house this weekend and do nothing," he said. "Just don't have your neighbors over and your extended family over because that's where we see danger."

By many metrics the pandemic situation is improving. The seven-day moving average of new daily hospitalizations was 18, as of Thursday evening, down from 27 two weeks ago and nearly 37 a month ago.

But as predicted new clusters—defined as three or more cases—have emerged in students returning to school. Earlier this week, Escott said four area primary and secondary schools had reported clusters, with more than 25 cases between them. Most stemmed from athletic activities, such as football.

The University of Texas at Austin, meanwhile, has reported 118 cases among students since its fall semester began Aug. 26. In the last week, nearly a quarter of confirmed COVID cases in Travis County have been among UT students, Escott said Friday.

"We need you to be part of the solution," he said, urging students to take their role as community members seriously. "We need you to take leadership."

St. Edward's University and Austin Community College are also reporting student COVID cases on their respective dashboards.

Local health and school officials have not provided clear guidelines about what would lead to a closure of their campuses.

Escott also raised concerns about the return of in-person sporting events and the possible reopening of bars.

Later this month, the Texas Longhorns will play their first home football game at the Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, which will be limited to 25% capacity—or 25,000 fans. While Escott acknowledged UT's efforts to ensure safety, such as canceling pre-game tailgating, he said Austinites at high risk should "think twice" before choosing to attend such a large gathering.

Earlier this week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hinted at "next steps" regarding the state's shutdown orders, which currently prevent bars and restaurants that make 51% or more of their revenue from alcohol sales from opening.

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