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Austin Public Health official says there’s a 96% chance the Covid-19 epidemic is growing in the area

Thursday, October 22, 2020 by Marisa Charpentier, KUT

Austin’s top doctor said Wednesday there’s a 96 percent chance the Covid-19 epidemic is growing in the area, up from about 90 percent the day before.

“This is not an Election Day gimmick. This is real,” Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, said during a news conference. “We spent several weeks over the past month in a plateau, where we were relatively flat. Now, we’re on an upward trajectory, and we’ve got to change that.”

The number of Covid-19 cases and the number of Covid-19 patients admitted to the hospital are rising, as well as ICU and ventilator use. The seven-day average of new hospital admissions in the Austin area was 12 at the start of the month; now it’s 19. Escott said people need to continue following health protocols in order to slow the spread of disease, especially as the holidays approach.

“If we want to avoid having a very ugly Thanksgiving, we have got to be very safe this Halloween,” he said. “We’ve got to change our traditions so that we can avoid the risk of transmitting this disease.”

Watch the news conference below:

Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden said people need to continue washing their hands frequently, staying home when sick, and wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from others in public.

“I understand that we are getting exhausted, and as time moves on, this does get to be a difficult task,” Hayden said. “We have relaxed, and I understand it is due to fatigue. But we cannot let our guard down.”

Health officials have been urging people to get a flu shot, since it’s now flu season and Covid-19 is still spreading. Last year during flu season, local hospitals nearly reached capacity because of flu patients, Escott said. The “dual threat” of Covid-19 and the flu has officials concerned hospitals could be overrun again.

Austin Public Health is distributing free flu vaccines at two events in the coming weeks, a small event Saturday and a larger one Nov. 7. Priority will go to those without insurance. APH recommends people with insurance find a provider at VaccineFinder.org.

Janet Pichette, APH chief epidemiologist, said the events will serve as practice for when a Covid-19 vaccine is ready to be distributed.

“We are using every flu opportunity to test what things work well and what don’t work well,” Pichette said, “so we can incorporate that into our Covid vaccination planning.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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