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Austin Public Health Blames Reopenings, Memorial Day Socializing For Spike In COVID-19 Cases

Michael Minasi

The recent spike in new confirmed COVID-19 cases is not related to the string of protests against police brutality across the city in the last two weeks, Austin Public Health's top doctor said.

On Tuesday, Austin Public Health confirmed 161 new cases of the virus – the largest day-over-day increase since the start of the pandemic. The previous high was 118, the number of cases confirmed Monday.

Interim Health Director Dr. Mark Escott said the majority of the new cases can be attributed to Memorial Day gatherings and business reopenings, as well as a drop off in people taking precautions to reduce transmission of the virus.

"Quite frankly, we also have an increase in risk-taking behavior,” he said during a news conference. “People are less cautious. They’re not wearing masks as much; they’re not social distancing as much.”

Escott said people who participated in the protests have only started getting tested for COVID-19 in the last days, and he expects to see those results later this week and into next week. He said the new cases confirmed on Monday and Tuesday had symptom onset up to 10 days earlier.

Escott said Austin Public Health will be monitoring the “concerning trend” of rising cases, after two days of triple-digit spikes and an increase in tests. On Tuesday, he told Travis County Commissioners that the health authority offered tests to nearly 4,000 people between June 3 and June 7.

Given the recent spikes, Escott said Wednesday it's clear the pandemic is not over.

"We still have people hospitalized, we still have people dying," he said.  

He said people don’t need to live in fear of the virus, they just need to keep practicing behavior that reduces the risk of transmission.

“But what we do need to do, is to take [COVID-19] seriously," he said. "And use those simple precautions that we’ve been talking about for months now in order to decrease the transmission of disease, decrease the risk we’re going to overwhelm our hospitals and really take control of this disease. So that we cannot only protect public health, but protect our economy as well.”

Got a tip? Email Jerry Quijano at Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.

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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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