After a bumpy September, Austin is seeing a decline in new COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations even as schools and other facilities, including restaurants and public pools, continue to reopen.
"We had a period of increase through September," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday. "We flattened out a little bit, and now we've been decreasing over the past week in terms of new cases."
The seven-day moving average of daily new confirmed COVID cases in Travis County is 73, as of Monday evening, which is comparable to the rate a month ago and down from 128 on Sept. 16, according to Austin Public Health data.
The seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions is also improving. It is now 13, down from 18 on Sept. 1.
Escott described this current rate as a sweet spot, or "a place where we can live for some time where we have cases going on but we can keep them at a minimum … and we can open businesses and our schools and be safe."
But he also added that the Austin metro has been unable to push past a daily average of around a dozen new COVID hospitalizations.
"Twelve to 13 seems to be a roadblock for us," he said.
The threshold for a Stage 2 level of risk, according to APH's risk-based guidelines, is a daily average of 10 new hospitalizations. At that level, recommended restrictions would loosen.
Despite the hospitalization roadblock, there are other signs of progress.
Last week, Travis County testing sites reported their lowest positivity rate—3.8%— since the pandemic began. The positivity rate among Latino residents is improving, although at 6.3% still remains higher than the average. There has also been a substantial decrease in the positivity rate among members of the 10-19 age group who have been tested recently.
The COVID-19 positivity rate in Travis County hit an all-time low last week, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said. (Austin Public Health)
Over the last week, APH monitored 25 cases among primary and secondary school students, faculty and staff, Escott said, adding that although there are "pockets of transmission"—mostly attributable to extracurricular activities—so far "explosions of cases" have been avoided.
Austin ISD began in-person learning on Monday, following in the footsteps of most other local public school districts. Despite pushback from some parents and teachers, Escott sanctioned AISD's reopening plan and seems optimistic about the weeks to come—so long as Ausinites continue to observe certain precautions.
"If we continue to screen ourselves every day before we leave the house, and screen our children … we can really continue to impact the spread of this disease in Austin, and we can continue to be an example to other cities across Texas," he said.
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After a truly impactful year on the aviation industry, Norwegian Air announced that due to COVID-19 and government advice discouraging travel, it would abandon its long haul flights to focus on its European audience for the time being.
That means Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is losing two European routes: a nonstop route to London and Austin's sole nonstop route to Paris.