COVID-19 rates after Thanksgiving have yet to climb, but experts say spike could still be coming

Graphic of a coronavirus unit
Travis County officials are closely following coronavirus case statistics following Thanksgiving. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Travis County officials are closely following coronavirus case statistics following Thanksgiving. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Travis County has not yet seen a spike in COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations in the days since Thanksgiving—a holiday local and national public health experts worried could heighten COVID-19 transmission due to increased travel and multi-household celebrations. However, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said the holiday’s effects will continue to reveal themselves in the coming days.

As of Nov. 30, Travis County had a seven-day moving average of 231 new daily COVID-19 cases, down slightly from a moving average before Thanksgiving. Similarly, the seven-day moving average of coronavirus-related hospital admissions was 32 on Nov. 30, down from 35 a week before. However, Escott said at a Dec. 1 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court that holidays have historically had an artificial stunting effect on coronavirus case counts as well as the prevalence of other illnesses and injuries.

“Two things happen: the number of people getting tested goes down, and the number of people presenting to hospitals goes down. Being an emergency physician and working many, many holidays, I can tell you that people are okay with working on the holidays because things tend to be slow. Nobody wants to work the day after the holiday because that’s when people come in. What we see is people delaying their care,” he said.

Because COVID-19 has an incubation period of anywhere from two to 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some people exposed to the virus during Thanksgiving could still begin to feel symptoms in days to come. Additionally, Escott said individuals who had put off testing or care for severe symptoms could begin to seek care this week.

“We will be anxiously watching the data this week to see what happens because of that phenomenon as well as risk of increased transmission during the holidays,” he said.

In light of that phenomenon, Escott said the latest projections from the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium could be “too optimistic.” Those projections show a 44% chance the pandemic is worsening locally as of Nov. 30.

As local health officials such as Escott keep an eye on Travis County’s coronavirus statistics following the holiday, they are also anticipating the arrival of a vaccine—possibly by later this month. Gov. Greg Abbott announced a statewide plan to distribute vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna once they become available. In accordance with that plan, Escott told Austin City Council on Dec. 1 that health care workers and other high-priority groups would be the first Travis County residents to receive a vaccine—likely by the end of December.
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.