Austin Public Health medical director: At least one being tested for coronavirus; risk remains low ahead of SXSW

A photo of the Travis County Commissioners Court and representatives from the Health & Human Services Department.
The Travis County Commissioners Court heard an update from Travis County Health & Human Services representatives March 3. (Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Travis County Commissioners Court heard an update from Travis County Health & Human Services representatives March 3. (Emma Freer/Community Impact Newspaper)

The medical director for Austin Public Health told county commissioners March 3 that the risk of contracting novel coronavirus is currently low for Travis County residents.

Mark Escott is the interim medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health and the Emergency Management System medical director for both the city and the county. He told commissioners March 3 this risk assessment holds true for mass gatherings such as the upcoming South by Southwest Conference & Festivals.

“There is not strong evidence that cancelling mass gatherings breaks the chain of transmission,” Escott said.

He emphasized that “close, personal contact over long periods of time” with infected individuals carries the greatest risk of transmission.

While there are no instances of person-to-person spread of novel coronavirus in Travis County, Escott said that “one or more” individuals have been hospitalized or quarantined while being monitored and tested for the virus.


According to APH officials, the city has a five-phase plan to prepare for any cases of the novel coronavirus.

APH has moved into its second phase in that plan because of the confirmed test or tests, said APH Public Information and Marketing Manager Jen Samp.

"If we stop testing or if we don’t need to test, we’ll go back to Phase 1," Samp said. "It is very fluid on which phase we’re going to be in."

The test or tests came after new coronavirus testing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Samp told Community Impact Newspaper. Under the new guidelines, individuals may be tested for coronavirus if they exhibit fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness in combination with a history of travel from a handful of affected countries, or if the individual has had close contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient within 14 days of onset, according to CDC documents. Patients may be additionally tested even if no source or exposure has been identified, CDC documents outline.

"You're going to start seeing more individuals tested," Samp said.

APH yesterday afternoon sent its samples to Atlanta to be tested by the CDC, according to Samp. The local agency "usually" gets results back in 24-48 hours, Samp said.

Escott told commissioners the public would be alerted if an active case of the virus is confirmed.

In addition, APH announced the formation of an expert advisory panel to evaluate the risks of novel coronavirus in Travis County—particularly the risks involved with mass gatherings and community hubs for vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes.

Escott said the advisory panel—which includes experts on infectious diseases, pediatrics, emergency medicine, internal medicine, primary care and public health—would convene tonight. For the time being, he emphasized that the community should feel safe to move forward with daily activities, including primary voting, following the news that a number of Travis County poll workers had not arrived at their posts the morning of election day.

“We have no evidence of community spread. We should not be afraid to go to our polling places to do our duty today,” Escott said.

Williamson County officials also addressed public concern regarding novel coronavirus at their March 3 County Commissioners meeting, where they, too, addressed safety measures health officials were taking and urged the public to maintain common disease-prevention habits, such as washing hands and covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, as fears over the virus persist.

This article has been updated as of 3:46 p.m., March 3.

Olivia Aldridge - Iain Oldman



MOST RECENT

Photo of a woman and girl walking the trail with the Austin skyline behind them
Travis County commits to electrify fleet, doubles down on climate goals

Commissioners directed staff this week to develop a plan to fully electrify Travis County's fleet of vehicles, a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions for the county.

The Bloomhouse—an 1,100-square-foot home in the hills of West Austin—was built in the 1970s by University of Texas architecture students for fellow student Dalton Bloom. It was featured in the Austin Weird Homes Tour of 2020. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Weird Homes Tour ends; Z’Tejas to close Arboretum restaurant and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Project Connect's proposed Orange Line will run from Tech Ridge, through downtown Austin and to Slaughter Lane. (Rendering courtesy Project Connect)
Project Connect Orange Line design reveals proposed locations for rail stations in North, South Austin

The latest Orange Line design shows potential elevated rail line over I-35, as well as options for the Drag.

Photo of a weird home
Austin's Weird Homes Tour says goodbye—for now

The tour's founders say they are open to a new local operator taking over the event.

The former hotel off I-35 had most recently been used as a COVID-19 homeless Protection Lodge. (Courtesy City of Austin)
East Cesar Chavez encampment residents move into former South Austin hotel

Through Austin's HEAL initiative, residents of an encampment near East Austin's Terrazas Branch Libarary were relocated to a South Austin shelter before that camp is cleared away.

The regional blood bank appealed for further donations in the wake of the June 12 shooting in downtown Austin. (Courtesy We Are Blood)
We Are Blood appeals for blood donations following weekend shooting in downtown Austin

The Central Texas nonprofit also said its blood supply remains depleted due to decreased donations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo of a man holding robotic equipment
Tesla teams up with Austin Community College for manufacturing training and hiring program

The Tesla START program will hire and train ACC students to work with robotics and other advanced manufacturing equipment.

Austin City Council's Housing and Planning Committee met virtually June 15. (Screenshot via City of Austin)
Austin City Council members, city Realtors talk housing market increases and affordability

The median sale price of Austin homes surged past $500,000 through the first five months of 2021.

Izzy  is one of the 20 dogs in need of an emergency foster home. (Courtesy Austin Pets Alive)
Austin Pets Alive seeks emergency foster homes for dogs recovering from distemper

The Bastrop County Animal Shelter and Austin Pets Alive are seeking homes within the next 48 hours for 20 dogs facing euthanasia.

Community groups painted "Black Austin Matters" along three blocks of Congress Avenue in 2020. Juneteenth, an official city of Austin holiday as of 2020, commemorates the day Black residents of Texas found out they were free from slavery in 1865. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Juneteenth in Austin: Parade and fireworks information, other community events, city closures

The holiday commemorates the day Black enslaved residents of Texas were told they were free in Galveston in 1865.

The mid-June East Sixth Street shooting has prompted responses from city police, EMS and government officials. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Sixth Street fatal shooting leads to renewed discussions of public safety staffing, gun violence prevention in Austin

Increased police staffing, improved EMS availability, and state or federal action on gun violence prevention are among the proposals floated in the wake of the weekend shooting.

Plans to move forward with the design of a new Travis County women's jail have been postponed indefinitely. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Travis County pauses plans to build new women's jail

Commissioners voted unanimously to postpone any design or construction of new jail facilities for at least a year while staff re-evaluate the Travis County correctional system's needs.