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'Stay Home And Don't Travel,' Public Health Officials Advise Austinites

Carmen Rangel paints a mural of a woman coming out of a flower on the North Lamar underpass
Gabriel C. Pérez
Carmen Rangel paints a mural on the North Lamar underpass earlier this month.

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People should take the rising number of COVID-19 cases into consideration as they weigh their holiday plans this week, the interim health authority for Austin-Travis County said.

“Our best advice is stay home and don’t travel,” Dr. Mark Escott told reporters during a news conference Monday.

Escott said the city is facing an “unprecedented” surge in COVID-19 cases. So far, cases have increased 86% since the beginning of the month.

“This week COVID-19 will become the third leading cause of death in Travis County for 2020,” he said.

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Janet Pichette, Austin Public Health’s chief epidemiologist, said the current surge in cases is largely linked to Thanksgiving gatherings. She said that should serve as a warning to everyone making plans this week.

“We know that people are going to celebrate the holiday season,” Pichette said, “and we really don’t want to see a repeat of the Thanksgiving holiday where we had massive spikes following family gatherings.”

If people do gather with people outside their home, officials are urging mask usage, physical distance and hand-washing. If people decide to travel, Escott said going by car only with people in your household is best. And if you travel by plane, which he warned against, it is best to wear two masks.

Pichette said people who travel should get tested about three days before they depart. She also urged people to self-quarantine a full week after coming back and then getting another COVID-19 test.

“We really need to exercise some personal responsibility,” she said.

Officials are also warning about people shopping in stores. Stephanie Hayden, the director of Austin Public Health, is asking families to designate one member of their household to run errands, instead of going to stores as a whole family.

“My hope is that you designate someone who is under 65 years of age and doesn’t have underlying health conditions,” she said. “That is going to be important for us as we move forward to flatten the curve.”

This story has been updated.

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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