AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County health officials are urging residents to be vigilant and safe with Thanksgiving just one day away.
In a Wednesday briefing, Austin-Travis County Alternate Health Authority Dr. Jason Pickett, along with Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden and APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette, gave the latest on COVID-19 in the Austin area.
With the national holiday on Thursday, all officials expressed concern about gatherings and travel.
“There are ways you can make your holiday safer and happier and healthier,” Pickett said. “One of them is to avoid gathering with folks outside of your immediate household. To stay away from crowds, to stay away from groups.”
Pickett said that he understands some people may have already traveled for the holiday — and that they should be extra observant of the things they can do to reduce risk of transmission. These include wearing masks and gathering outside instead of inside.
“We know that folks are gathering this Thanksgiving,” Pickett said. “We will, as we did after Easter and Memorial Day and Independence Day, see families that are devastated by this disease.”
Pickett also explained that, “A test does not buy you a ticket to a gathering,” since people could merely not be infected at the time of testing.
Meanwhile, Pichette said that increasingly with positive cases, patients originally thought they had allergies, but that they end up being positive. “…Nasal congestion or scratchy throat. Even some of these mild symptoms can be indictive of COVID-19. So, if you experience any type of symptoms, you need to consider that you are infectious in some way until you have a test that proves otherwise.”
Austin-Travis County health authorities will have code enforcement officials working during the holiday, and residents can dial 311 to report gatherings that they deem as concerning.
On Tuesday, Pickett and Travis County Judge Andy Brown expressed concerns that state directives still allow businesses to operate at 75% capacity when local health authorities are asking for a reduction in capacity to 25%-50%.
Hayden explained that if anyone has concerns about a business not observing capacity regulations, to report the possible violation to Austin Public Health.
‘You are putting yourself at risk’
Pichette said that with the holiday approaching, residents need to limit further high-risk behaviors that have already been observed — namely, people continuing to gather for events like baby showers, weddings and funerals.
She explained that anytime you participate in any of these behaviors — including holiday travel — you’re putting yourself and others at risk of transmission.
Stage 4 in the Austin area
The area is still in Stage 4 of the COVID-19 risk levels due to not having enough medical workers to staff all the city’s beds in intensive care units.
As of Wednesday morning, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard says the area’s seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations is at 38, and 215 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and 74 are in an ICU.
The positivity rate in the area is 6.5%, the dashboard shows.
APH issued a message through the county’s WARN system Tuesday not to gather with people outside their homes for Thanksgiving in order to help prevent wider spread of COVID-19.
Pickett assured that APH is currently doing well over 1,000 tests a day currently.