As Austin public health officials warn of the "Thanksgiving effect"—evidenced by a rising COVID-19 caseload and increasing hospitalizations connected to holiday gatherings—many residents want to know how they can minimize their risk of exposure in the coming weeks.
Austonia spoke to Dr. Stanley Spinner, vice president and chief medical officer at Texas Children's Pediatrics and Texas Children's Urgent Care, about how to navigate this holiday season safely.
Where is the risk?
First things first, it's helpful to know what is driving the current spike in new cases.
Spinner said the risk extends far beyond essential workers and is not necessarily concentrated where one might expect, such as in school classrooms.
"We see this from a lot of casual gatherings," he said. "That's how we're seeing more and more people getting infected.
Local case investigations bear this out.
"In our discussions with our epidemiology team, there are simply dozens and dozens of examples of entire families being infected based on Thanksgiving holidays in our jurisdiction," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday.
What's the most prudent course of action?
Spinner encouraged Austinites to stay within their bubbles this holiday season. He will be spending Christmas with his wife and their son's family, all of whom have avoided grocery stores and restaurants.
"We feel comfortable with that," he said, adding that the best way to minimize risk is to avoid seeing people outside of your household.
What if I get tested before attending a gathering?
Austin Public Health reported a spike in demand for COVID-19 testing the week before Thanksgiving, which officials attributed to people wanting a negative result before attending a holiday gathering.
But this isn't a failsafe method—and may lead to a false sense of security.
"The issue as far as testing … it's a snapshot," Spinner said, adding that a negative result only confirms that a person probably wasn't infected on a certain day.
A more accurate way to rule out COVID would be to get testing every day in the lead up to a gathering, which is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for most people.
Is there anything I can do to make gathering less risky?
"If you're really looking to gather more than your immediate family together on Christmas, one approach is they all quarantine at home for 14 days," Spinner said.
With less than two weeks until Christmas, this method would require groups to have already begun their quarantine period.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its quarantine guidelines, including a 10-day period as an alternative to their previous recommendation of two weeks.
"Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to quarantine by reducing the time they cannot work," the federal agency wrote on its website last month.
Although a 10-day quarantine is better than one of a shorter duration, Spinner encouraged Austinites to self isolate for the full two-week period, which he called "the gold standard."
Is it safe to travel?
This depends on how much risk one is willing to take on.
"If you really, really want to be safe, stay home," Spinner said. "That's ultimately the best approach."
For those intent on traveling, he recommended trips that require no more than one day of driving to avoid exposure at hotels or rental properties.
If that isn't an option, he suggested renting an apartment or home to avoid interacting with others. If one is required to stay at a hotel, he urged cleaning the room after checking in as a precaution.
What about flying?
Spinner discouraged air travel but offered some suggestions for how to make it less dangerous.
Most fliers who get COVID while traveling are exposed in their airport, so he encouraged fliers to wear a mask; eye protection, such as a face shield; and gloves.
He also said to avoid any public restrooms, if possible, and wipe down surfaces before using them
Still, he added, "it is a risk."
Who should be most cautious?
"The more people you have (around you) who are higher risk, the closer to the vest you should play it," Spinner said.
High-risk populations include those 65 years of age and older; people with co-morbidities, such as diabetes and suppressed immune systems; and those who are pregnant.
He encouraged everyone to be cautious because of the possibility that they could transmit the disease to others—or get sick themselves with a severe case.
"Who wants to take the chance with themselves or their loved ones?" he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of people do, but they shouldn't."
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A first minute error gave Austin FC an early setback, but with the help of two red cards and two second-half goals, the Verde and Black still forced a last-minute tie in a messy home battle against Orlando City SC Sunday night.
With the 2-2 draw, Austin dropped from No. 1 in the MLS West conference but still earned a point in the standings thanks to a penalty kick goal from Sebastian Driussi and a breakthrough shot from striker Moussa Djitte, who scored his first goal with the club in the final minute of play.
Here are the top three takeaways from the match:
A fateful mistake
Just days after his highlight reel-worthy LAFC performance, Austin keeper Brad Stuver scratched heads as he gave away a goal seconds into the game. Stuver's fateful pass went straight to Orlando's Junior Urco, who was already in the box and tapped a quick pass to Ercan Kara to score the first goal of the match.
The mistake forced Austin to chase a tie for the rest of the match, especially as center back Ruben Gabrielsen benched himself in the 20th minute. The team later said Gabrielsen has come down with something similar to a stomach bug.
Orlando would score two minutes later, and Austin FC left the first half looking like the opposite of its "Best in the MLS" self from just days prior.
The two red cards
By the 60th minute of the match, however, the tides had turned. Orlando's Rodrigo Schlegel, who had already racked up a yellow card on a handball, was ousted from the game two minutes later for yet another handball, this time in the penalty box.
Austin's main man Sebastian Driussi took the kick and sent it in for his eighth goal of the season to make it 2-1.
And just over five minutes later, Orlando's Cesar Araujo was the second man in purple kicked out of the match after he kicked Alex Ring on a slide tackle near the box. Austin was left with just over 20 minutes, and just nine opponents left, to try and tie it up.
The 'Mouss' is loose!
As the whistle blew and regulation time ran out, Orlando seemed to have won the match. The team had withstood many, many close calls—including two shots off the post from Austin FC's Diego Fagundez and Maxi Urruti—as Austin FC flooded the box with 22 cracks at goal
But thanks to the chaotic nature of the game, Austin FC was given nine extra minutes to tie it up. Moussa Djitte was the one who finally broke through five minutes into stoppage time, earning his first goal in Verde to put a 2-2 cap on the wild home match.
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This Gemini season, starting today, is appropriately paradoxical, twisting and blending simple concerns with life’s bigger, faster and more fiery quests.
On Sunday, May 29, we’ll experience one of the year’s biggest calls to adventure in the Mars/Jupiter conjunction—a potent duo whose combined force will start to be especially strongly felt when Mars moves into Aries on May 24. Contrastingly, Mercury, the ruler of Gemini, will keep our mental temperament grounded and steady as they move slowly through the sensual, materially-oriented sign of Taurus for most of the month. These contrasting forces might be tricky to weave together—read ahead for tips on how your sign can find the right approach this month!
Gemini: May 21-June 20Gemini: May 21-June 20
Welcome to the season of your Solar Return, Gemini! This month will set the stage for your whole coming year, so it will be great to start it off on the right foot. The most important bit of cosmic context is Mercury moving slowly till the end of the month in the grounded sign of Taurus. This is an encouragement to savor your questions and conversations with the world, without needing to rush to answers and to mull over the elemental, fundamental aspects of your life. It would be great to give yourself perspective, especially by experiencing new environments and by moving through the world in a new manner. Allow yourself to be surprised! You might loosen some of your hardened beliefs, but don’t discount the trustworthiness or substance of the new ideas you may stumble upon.
Cancer: June 21-July 22Cancer: June 21-July 22
For you, Cancer, the paradoxes of Gemini season have to do with inwardness and outwardness. On the one hand, you can expect your inner world to be as active as ever, swirling with meaningful thoughts and experiences needing to be digested. On the other, this month features a strong call to get out of your shell, open up to the world at large, and bravely share yourself—perhaps even in an unprecedented way! In transitioning between these extremes, the Moon can be as good a guide as ever—heading into and out of the New Moon on the 30th, you might focus on articulating and envisioning this burgeoning impulse and nourishing the terrain for its growth. As we ramp up to the full moon on the 14th, you might find small ways to embody, communicate and make real this developing dream.
Leo: July 23-Aug 22Leo: July 23-Aug. 22
This Gemini Season is particularly intense for you, Leo, as it calls forth both a fiery, hungry spirit and a more serious, dedicated energy, aware of life’s hardships and limitations. These impulses herald a summer of growth and maturation, which would be great to get a good jump on. Just don’t let this process make you too heavyhearted or self-involved! Your friends, community, and experience of the broader social world at large can help soften and clarify this strong, fiery self that’s metamorphosing. You might rely upon this bigger, human perspective to help you progress smoothly and gracefully. Although it might require some extra humility, taking yourself less seriously can be a superpower. A lighthearted approach can be extraordinarily efficient and effective. It might be paradoxical, but consider that relying on a bigger, greater power than your own is your path to individual fullness.
Virgo: Aug. 23-Sept. 21Virgo: Aug. 23-Sept. 21
This Gemini season brings a charge for you to expand into more substantive and serious subjects, Virgo. Especially if you feel you’ve been playing small, this will provide an opportunity for you to grow into more meaningful and demanding work in the world. At times, this will feel hectic and harsh—there will be no shortage of fire this month. You, as much as anyone, though, can help find the right place and time for that fire, directing it where there’s a need for more energy and oomph. Lightheartedness can be really helpful in navigating and dancing with this heat—with a bit of humor and perspective, you can respond and adapt quickly and gracefully. By the end of the month, you should be able to feel like your view of and faith in the bigger picture has expanded.
Libra: Sept. 22-Oct. 23Libra: Sept. 22-Oct. 23
This Gemini season will provide ample opportunities for you to learn and grow through your relationships, Libra. We’re really looking at the full spectrum of potential experiences here—on the one hand, Mars’ entry into Aries can ignite flammable subjects, and people are generally likely to be on edge, assertive and protective. On the other, Venus’ conjunction with Uranus toward the end of the month can bring unexpected encounters and new forms of relationship into play. Throughout all of this, there’s a theme for the next year of growth through fiery, direct relationships. This is a step beyond just keeping the peace which may be discomforting, but consider that it may take your relationships to incredibly satisfying and enduring places.
Scorpio: Oct. 24-Nov. 21Scorpio: Oct. 24-Nov. 21
This Gemini season brings opportunities for sharpening both your wits and tools, Scorpio, although this may feel like a trial by fire. Although they may feel particularly urgent and exciting this month, many of these challenges and opportunities will last throughout the summer, so take your time to get your focus clear and settle into a groove. The real challenge and potential this month have to do with navigating subtle, intricate dynamics so that you aren’t flustered and know exactly where to put your effort. In order to develop this discernment, you can definitely rely on trusted allies, who can act as mirrors, triangulation points and simple safe havens amid the storm. This is a strategic necessity, but be sure to give thanks and enjoy the simple goodness of companionship, too!
Sagittarius: Nov. 22-Dec. 21Sagittarius: Nov. 22-Dec. 21
The sharp, powerful impulses and stimulation of this Gemini season are pushing you to the development of your free will, Sagittarius—a spirit of playful, proud independence and spontaneity. There are a couple of ways that you might think about this. First, that courage is necessary to truly live out your convictions and ideals, as well as a way to ultimately best serve the world. Truth isn’t always soft or easy. On the other hand, this isn’t too complex and is keyed to cutting through stagnation. There’s a sort of simplicity and instinctive wisdom that you can draw upon and develop into this month, letting things happen. If you need to, you can think of this as an act of trust, or faith in a basic goodness and natural, flowing order of things.
Capricorn: Dec. 22-Jan. 19Capricorn: Dec. 22-Jan. 19
The motion and activity of this Gemini season can quickly develop your values and taste, Capricorn, as you strip back ordinary and inherited ways of thinking and open your eyes to life’s beauty. This simple and vibrant beauty will stimulate your desire to savor life’s goodness and strive for the highest quality experience possible. Along the way, your fixed, limited ideas about what is possible can fall away, even as the new and extraordinary may require incredible strength and devotion from you. Although these are lofty ideals, they’ll have a lot to do with your tangible, everyday experience of your body and sense of home—this is a primal, almost wild energy being rekindled. Alongside this intense fire comes a certain risk, so make sure to enter into this new adventure step by step, without injuring yourself or anyone else.
Aquarius: Jan. 20-Feb. 18Aquarius: Jan. 20-Feb. 18
This Gemini season can help you learn how to feel more rooted and alive in life’s simple aspects, Aquarius. Although this can certainly take place in tandem with new teachers, these don’t have to be big gurus—rather, your curiosity, delight, and common sense might be the best guides. In this regard, your quality of perception, thought and the well-being of your inner child can all make great strides. Through the first part of the month, this will likely feel exciting and overwhelming. As we approach our new moon, though, you can get a better sense of where you need to be settling into more focus and definition in your life. This back and forth between a growing sense of clarity and inner authority and a stronger capacity to be firm and to the point will continue to deepen throughout the summer.
Pisces: Feb. 19-March 20Pisces: Feb. 19-March 20
This Gemini season is focused on helping you develop a stronger sense of connection to the world around you, Pisces. Although this can take place by rearranging and bringing more life into your body and environment, an initial spirit of fresh possibility and willingness to release what is stale and outgrown is a necessity. In doing so, you can land upon a greater sense of capability and being resourced for life’s adaptations and evolutions. This will certainly be a month of growth in your material world and relationship with your body, but the serious litmus test is how settled you feel internally—the quality and clarity of your thoughts and inner world. Ideally, though this summer you’ll develop a stronger trust in yourself and an easier interface between your inner riches and outer quality of experience.
Aries: March 21-April 19Aries: March 21-April 19
The Mars/Jupiter conjunction is especially important for you, Aries, as it happens in your home sign. This signifies a spark of expansion that will play out over the coming year. Here, Jupiter is calling you into new ventures and adventures, to level up and act on the big dreams and desires brewing inside of you. Thus, this month is a great time to initiate some bigger change, to take some jump, leap or healthy risk. Although you don’t want to let this moment slip away, please don’t get impulsive or headstrong—make sure you’ve got at least a bit of a plan. Ideally, whatever you’re aiming at will require a good bit of care, and you can expect that much of this opportune, fertile energy will continue and develop throughout the next year.
Taurus: April 20-May 20Taurus: April 20-May 20
The start of the coming month will challenge you to keep up the pace, Taurus, so that it can consolidate into a healthy rhythm. Finding the right stride, you can find yourself breathing more easily, and maybe let yourself loosen your grip or take your hands off the handlebars, trusting your sense of balance and the strength in your legs. This can set the stage for an opportune spell at the end of Gemini Season, as your ruler Venus makes a conjunction with Uranus—you might keep an eye out for spontaneous side adventures, ways to create space for synchronicity, or simple moments where life is calling you into new ways of being. Ideally, these will feel like clear upgrades, but if you need to think of them as experiments or trial runs, that’s totally okay, too.