Protests, floating the local rivers and visiting bars packed with patrons have been three drivers of higher coronavirus cases in Hays County, according to the Hays County Local Health Department.

After a steady climb to 500 cases since March, 519 new cases have been reported since June 12, including a record 155 cases on June 16.

Epidemiologist Eric Schneider said during a press conference June 17 that most of the cases are in the age category of 20-29 years old.

The county for most of the pandemic held hospitalizations around six patients in area hospitals. The county currently has 15, and Schneider said most of those hospitalized are between 45 and 75 years old. Hays County has reported five deaths related to coronavirus.

Schneider said 58% of the county’s cases since June 10 have been San Marcos residents.

After the economy began reopening through phases set by the governor’s office, cases have risen sharply, according to data from the health department.

“It’s spreading rapidly throughout the region,” Schneider said. “The number is growing faster than expected.”

Schneider said while some businesses along the rivers are being responsible and allowing floaters to depart only in small groups and by appointment, he said he could have walked across the river on the tubes he saw on the Comal and Guadalupe rivers last weekend.

The San Marcos and New Braunfels areas are destinations for floating the rivers. New Braunfels is in Comal County and is a popular day trip for Hays County residents.

Schneider called on residents to take precautions to slow the spread, including wearing face masks, observing 6 feet of space from others and washing hands frequently. He said many businesses have reached out about having employees testing positive.

The county will advise businesses to follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the health department will not close businesses.

The county has had high cases reported in food service, health care and construction.

“Most of our residents should assume they take the risk [of contracting coronavirus] as soon as they leave their homes,” Schneider said. “Let’s work together to do the right thing.”

Editor’s note: The June 17 coronavirus statistics will be released after 4 p.m.