(Austin Public Health)

The moving average of daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases has largely stayed steady in Travis County since late July.

Local health officials report a plateau in new confirmed COVID-19 cases and decreased demand for testing as schools prepare to reopen at limited capacity.


"We're concerned that we are not decreasing at the same rapid pace that we were toward the middle and end of July," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday.

The seven-day moving average of daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases was 208, as of Monday evening, only slightly lower than the July 29 average of 213.

Last week Escott said Travis County appeared to be making progress, but that is no longer the case.

"We're having trouble pushing through this plateau," he said.

Decreased testing

With a deflated surge and reports of long wait times, Demand for Austin Public Health's free COVID testing service has plummeted. Although the department has the capacity to test up to a thousand people a day, only around 250 signed up for the service on Monday and 40 on Tuesday, Escott said.

As a result, APH is now offering testing to anyone who applies, regardless if the person is experiencing symptoms or has had known contact with the virus.

Despite the decreased demand for testing, APH is reporting decreasing positivity rates week-over-week. Currently, around 9% of tests conducted in Travis County are positive, down from a peak of 21.2% six weeks ago.


School-age children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 19 have had the highest or second highest positivity rates in Travis County over the last month. (Austin Public Health)


But there are some disparities within the testing data, including a much higher positivity rate among Latino residents and certain age groups. Residents between the ages of 10 and 19 have reported the highest or second-highest positivity rates over the last four weeks.

"This is our group that's going to school, going to college," Escott explained.

School plans

These trends are concerning because schools are scheduled to begin a phased reopening on Sept. 8, which will likely drive up transmission rates as students, teachers and staff commingle on campus.

Further decreases in new cases and hospitalizations would make reopenings safer, Escott said, and more likely to last, without the need for intermittent closures.

To this end, Austin Public Health released its interim guidance for schools last week, which recommends that campuses open at 25% capacity for at least the first few weeks, to gauge the risk and work out any kinks. Then, they should modulate capacity limits based on the local COVID risk assessment, using APH's guidelines.



"I think the most important thing right now is that students have an avenue for education for the entirety of the fall semester, and anything that is going to put that at risk, such as trying to put too many teachers and students in one place, is really going to threaten that continuity," Escott said.

(Vic Hinterlang/Shutterstock)

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