Public health officials urge caution over Labor Day weekend as COVID-19 deaths continue to surge

Austin Public Health provided an updated on COVID-19 guidance ahead of Labor Day weekend. (Darcy Sprague/Community Impact)
Austin Public Health provided an updated on COVID-19 guidance ahead of Labor Day weekend. (Darcy Sprague/Community Impact)

Austin Public Health provided an updated on COVID-19 guidance ahead of Labor Day weekend. (Darcy Sprague/Community Impact)

At Austin Public Health's weekly briefing Sept. 3, officials warned individuals to take precautions over Labor Day weekend following a particularly deadly week in local hospitals.

On Sept. 2, 12 individuals died from COVID-19, tying with July 24, 2020 for the highest number of single-day deaths in the city.

Officials confirmed that all 12 individuals died within the same day and that the spike in deaths is due to the ongoing surge of the delta variant coupled with ICUs hitting or exceeding their capacity.

Adrienne Sturrup, APH assistant director of health equity and community engagement, said it is difficult for the department to celebrate any progress the city is making when the death count remains so high.

Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, said younger and healthier people are dying. She also said the majority of deaths are individuals who are not vaccinated.

The week's total of 36 deaths was slightly lower than the deadliest week of July, 23, 2020, but higher than the 11 deaths that occurred during the same week last year.

Labor Day weekend

APH urged individuals to wear masks and social distance over the holiday break.

Last year, the Labor Day holiday did not cause a spike in cases. However, this year it has the potential to be a superspreader event, given the spread of the delta variant, Walkes said. Last year, schools were also not operating in person and many businesses were closed.

APH chief epidemiologist Janet Pichette cautioned Austinites to adhere to local laws and health policies of any destination they travel to. She said some locations may require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Individuals who are unvaccinated should get a test prior to traveling, Pichette said. Upon their return, they should get tested and quarantine for seven days. If they do not get tested, they should quarantine for 10 days, Pichette said.

Fully vaccinated individuals should monitor themselves for symptoms and get tested if they develop any, Pichette said.

Pichette said even individuals who are experiencing allergy symptoms should get tested to ensure it is not the virus.

Responding to a question from reporters, authorities said they strongly encourage anyone attending the University of Texas football game and tailgate to wear their masks and distance as much as possible.

APH pointed to data from school districts requiring masks compared to those that are not as proof that masking can significantly reduce the spread of the virus.

Herd immunity and vaccination goals

At the briefing, Walkes said that 58% of city residents have been vaccinated. More than 67% of all individuals eligible for the vaccines have received it, she said.

The city has a goal to reach 70% of eligible residents having vaccines by Labor Day. For that to happen, about 20,000 people would have to receive the shot over the weekend, said Cassandra DeLeon, APH chief administrative officer for disease prevention and health promotion.

APH thanked local school districts that have been hosting vaccination sites and highlighted Leander ISD, which hosted a clinic that vaccinated over 100 people.

DeLeon also touted the work of their vaccination strike team, which went into homeless encampments and administered more than 30 shots throughout the week.

“That’s public health at its best, where we go and meet people where they are at,” DeLeon said.

COVID-19 therapy

Walkes cautioned individuals not to take ivermectin, a livestock dewormer, to treat COVID-19. She said there is no data or scientific evidence that shows it to be effective.

Instead, she encouraged individuals who are sick to seek out monoclonal antibody treatment.

Walkes said it is best to seek the treatment as early as possible and that it can be used within the first 10 days of showing symptoms.

She said over 700 people in the Austin area have received the treatment, and it has reduced the burden on hospitals by preventing those individuals from becoming severely ill.


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