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As COVID-19 Cases Slowly Rise, Austin Public Health Looks To Expand Testing And Outreach

Michael Minasi

There have been 500 new cases of coronavirus in the Austin area in the past eight days, Austin Public Health officials said Wednesday.

Janet Pichette, APH chief epidemiologist, said the source of that spike can be attributed to businesses reopening and capacity expansions, coupled with recent holidays.

After almost a week of protests, where social distancing was often impossible, Austin Public Health is encouraging people to fill out the online COVID-19 evaluation and get tested for the virus.

“When it comes down to it, disease is transmitted by person-to-person interactions,” Dr. Mark Escott, APH's interim health authority, said. “I was pleased many people participating in peaceful protests were wearing masks, and that should help to mitigate that risk. But social distancing was impossible in many of those locations, so we are concerned we’re going to see an uptick.”

Watch the video of the news conference below (starting at the 14-minute mark):

Stephanie Hayden, director of Austin Public Health, also said during a news conference that the department is creating a plan to address the disproportionate effect of the virus on black and brown people in Austin. One way of addressing that disparity, she said, is working with care centers that have more trust from the communities they serve.

“As we know, [Austin Public Health] is the government, and so sometimes when the government comes in, people are not necessarily wanting to work with the government,” she said. “So we feel if we have a partner that has an existing relationship in those communities, they would be able to connect us with individuals that we may have not had access to.”

The city is hosting a forum June 13, where people are invited to give feedback on how Austin Public Health can better assist these communities.

“We need to hear from you, it is so important for you to participate,” she said. “As… COVID-19 brings about so many changes, it is important for [Austin Public Health] to collaborate with the community.”

This story has been updated. 

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Jerry Quijano is the local All Things Considered anchor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.
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