Despite downward trend in COVID-19 cases, health officials say Travis County has 'long way to go'

Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, spoke at a news conference July 31. (Courtesy Austin Public Health)
Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, spoke at a news conference July 31. (Courtesy Austin Public Health)

Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, spoke at a news conference July 31. (Courtesy Austin Public Health)

As recently as July 18, the Austin metropolitan area was seeing an average of 70 new coronavirus hospitalizations per day for the week. In the week and a half since, new hospitalizations have dropped down to 39.9 per day on average over the past seven days, according to July 30 data by Austin Public Health.

That 39.9 number is enough to drop Travis County down into Stage 3 risk for the first time since mid-June. However, local health officials July 31 said the county would remain in Stage 4 for now in an effort to continue the recent downward trend and reduce local hospital strain.

"The staging that we've created is designed to ensure that we do not exceed hospital capacity, and right now, our ICUs are still full,” said Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, at a news conference July 31. “ICUs are still under their surge plan. Until we're in a better place in terms of ICU capacity and our personnel in our hospitals, we're going to need to stay in Stage 4.”

Escott said that staying in Stage 4 also helps the county prepare for the coming school year. Local districts, including Austin ISD, have said they could begin in-person classes as soon as Sept. 8.

“We need to be in as safe a place as possible," Escott said. "We need to decrease transmission of the disease as much as possible so that reopening schools come Sept. 8 has a decreased risk—so we can get our schools open and keep them open."

Escott said Travis County residents have done a good job “getting the lid back on” the situation and flattening the curve locally. The current level of social distancing and wearing masks in public will be needed to continue the downward trend in cases and hospitalizations, he said.

Continued success could result in reopening more in the future, beginning with lower-risk amenities.

“We're not quite in a place where we want to take risks [with opening more amenities and businesses], and we have a long way to go in order to get our school children back in the classroom," he said.

APH Director Stephanie Hayden said even though things have improved, Travis County has to continue to take precautions. She also encouraged businesses to create plans for future reopenings so that when the time does come to open or expand capacities, businesses can do so with safety measures in place.

The county also anticipates that until a vaccine is created and distributed, future waves of increased COVID-19 cases, such as the wave seen this summer, could occur.

“The public needs to continue to stay the course and continue to drop numbers as we prepare for any potential second wave when school starts," APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette said.


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