Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County commissioners at a Sept. 15 meeting that around 14% of the youth in that age range tested have been positive in the past week, accounting for an overall increase in Travis County's positive cases since Sept. 3.
"The fact that we’ve seen increases in cases is concerning, but because they’re primarily in younger age groups that have a much, much lower risk of being hospitalized and dying, we’re not seeing a significant impact on hospitalizations," Escott said. "Of course, it can spread outside of those age groups, which is why it’s really important not only that they try to avoid transmission, but once they’ve been exposed, once they are sick, it is absolutely critical that they protect other people by isolating."
High school-age children currently present the highest positivity rate, Escott said, with 14% of the last week's 235 tests coming back positive, nearly triple the general population's 4.8% positivity rate. College-age individuals tested at around 9.4%. Middle and elementary school-age children tested at 5.6% and 1.5%, respectively.
“As schools continue to increase their in-person opportunities, as well as other events happening, like athletic events and social gatherings, we’re seeing those increase, those age groups that are more likely to gather,” Escott said. “We are working with our superintendents, as well as our colleges and universities, to really try to get control of the spread in these circumstances."
Some Travis County K-12 schools began to offer in-person instruction again Sept. 8, and students returned to campus at The University of Texas on Aug. 26. UT also held its first football game Sept. 12, with around 15,000 people in attendance. UT students who attended were required to take a coronavirus antigen test prior to the game, and university officials reported that 95 of the 1,198 students tested received a positive result and not allowed to attend. Escott said those students, as well as any other students who test positive, must isolate and that they may access isolation facilities provided by Austin Public Health in partnership with Travis County and the city of Austin.
Large social gatherings on UT's campus, including fraternity and sorority events, also continue to be tracked, Escott said.
“We met with our fraternities and sororities at UT yesterday to remind them of their responsibilities to make sure that gatherings of more than 10 people are not happening, and they are subject to criminal penalties if they do not follow those health authority rules or orders of the mayor," Escott said.
First violations of COVID-19 health rules typically result in a warning, he said, with second violations resulting in a fine and criminal penalty. In the case of a "clear and present danger," the fire marshal or an Austin Code official may take immediate action.