Travis County health officials turn toward positivity rate to track local coronavirus risk

A screen shot of Dr. Mark Escott's face
Dr. Mark Escott updated the Travis County Commissioners Court on local coronavirus statistics at an Aug. 11 meeting. (Screenshot courtesy Travis County)

Dr. Mark Escott updated the Travis County Commissioners Court on local coronavirus statistics at an Aug. 11 meeting. (Screenshot courtesy Travis County)

Travis County's top public health official said Austin Public Health is considering a new indicator to track local coronavirus risk: the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests.

In recent months, APH has keyed in on the Austin metropolitan area's seven-day moving average of coronavirus-related hospital admissions when gauging public risk. While Travis County's risk is still classified as Stage 4, or the second-highest tier of risk, seven-day moving averages of hospital admissions have consistently fallen in the Stage 3 zone for around two weeks. Currently, the average is 33 new admissions per day.

However, Dr. Mark Escott, the Austin-Travis County interim health authority, told county commissioners at an Aug. 11 meeting that the rate at which residents test positive for the virus could be a "better and earlier" indicator of coming trends.

Based on data provided by Escott, local positivity rates peaked around June 21 at 20%, weeks ahead of when both new daily cases and the seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions peaked in early July. As of Aug. 2, that positivity rate is between 5% and 10%.

However, Escott said some improvements in reporting time are needed before APH can rely on the new metric, especially if there continues to be a lag time between when tests are conducted and when results are reported to APH from third-party offices and labs. In the meantime, he encouraged the public to take advantage of public testing through APH's coronavirus testing portal.


“We are seeing what’s being seen in many parts of the country right now, and that’s a significant decrease in the testing being done," Escott said.

In the past few weeks, he said, weekly testing has decreased from 6,000 to 1,400.

“This is not because less tests are available. It’s because less individuals are signing up for testing," he said.
By Olivia Aldridge

Reporter, Central Austin

Olivia joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in March 2019. She covers public health, business, development and Travis County government. A graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas. Her work has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times.



MOST RECENT

Austin's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission certified its final City Council district map plan for the 2020s Oct. 27. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin's updated City Council district map certified; new boundaries will last through 2020s

The decadelong mapping plan was developed by a panel of city residents in a process designed to be independent and nonpartisan.

Aerial photo of Aldrich Street
Mueller district announces six new businesses, including a new Veracruz All Natural taco shop location

In addition to the acclaimed taco purveyor, a cookie shop and ramen restaurant are headed to Mueller's Aldrich Street.

The French Legation State Historical Site will reopen to the public Oct. 30. (Courtesy Texas Historical Commission)
French Legation Historic Site in Austin reopens after 2-year restoration

The Texas Historical Commission is inviting the public to the grand reopening of the Austin French Legation State Historic Site on Oct. 30.

The toll increases are higher this year, as a result of inflation increasing the consumer price index over the past year. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
Central Texas tolling agency moves forward with 5% toll increases for 2022

The increases range from $0.02 to $0.10 per toll and will take effect Jan. 1.

ExxonMobil has held office space at Hughes Landing in The Woodlands. (Courtesy The Howard Hughes Corp.)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: ExxonMobil to bring Hughes Landing employees back to Spring location; Dave's Hot Chicken to open in Plano and more top stories

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 27.

The second segment of the trail was split into two parts due to flood plain issues. The first part is expected to wrap up by the end of 2022.  (Courtesy Austin Public Works Department)
Austin begins work on second section of Northern Walnut Creek Trail

The city aims to have another 1.3 miles of the 19-mile trail complete by the end of 2022.

The Park and Recreation Board voted twice to deny a request to allow beer and wine to be sold in the area around Zilker Cafe. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Planning Commission turns down plan to sell beer, wine at Zilker Cafe

Eight commissioners voted in favor to deny the applicants request while two voted against the motion. Commissioner Awais Azhar abstained from voting.

Photo of Austin's skyline
Austin health authorities outline COVID-19 surge risks while eyeing possible shift to Stage 2

While Austin and Travis County remain under Stage 3 guidelines, hospitalizations have moved into possible Stage 2 territory.

Giselle Copa, an Austin Community College pharmacy student, prepares a COVID-19 vaccine for administration. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
At least 81% of Austin ISD staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, per district data

After the district had staff sign up for bonuses only available to fully vaccinated employees, the district can count its vaccinated employees at over 8,000.

"The Dude" is the signature burger at Lebowski's Grill. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Lebowski's Grill upends expectations in Austin; first Houston-area Costco Business Center opens in Stafford and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 26.

More than 35,000 passengers traveled through the airport on Oct. 25, the Monday following the 2021 F1 U.S. Grand Prix. (Benton Graham/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport sees busiest day ever following 2021 Formula One U.S. Grand Prix

The new record topped the previous busiest day by more than 3,000 passengers.