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COVID-19

Austin Public Health Leaders Ask Community To Consider Virtual Easter Celebrations

A line for walk-in appointments forms at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Austin on March 27.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
People wait in line for walk-in appointment forms at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Austin on Saturday.

Austin Public Health leaders are asking the community to consider celebrating Easter week differently than normal to avoid a third surge of COVID-19 cases.

During a news conference Wednesday, interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott encouraged people to take part in virtual church services instead of gathering in person. He said those who do choose to meet with people outside of their household should continue to maintain social distance, avoid large gatherings, wear a mask and practice good hand hygiene.

“If we do these things together, then we can continue to drive down transmission in Travis County and we can buy more time to get more people vaccinated,” Escott said.

APH continues to receive 12,000 first-round and 12,000 second-round doses of the COVID-19 vaccine each week. And while the department is focusing on priority groups — people in groups 1A, 1B and 1C, child care workers and education staff — Escott said others can find vaccines at different locations and should get a shot as soon as one is available.

He said herd immunity is not achieved at a fixed percentage; it changes based on the transmission of disease. So, if the area sees another surge in cases, it would need to get even more people vaccinated to bring down the transmission level. Additionally, herd immunity can only be achieved if there are vaccines available for children. A vaccine hasn't yet been approved for people under 16.

Cassandra DeLeon, APH's chief administrative officer for disease prevention and health promotion, said the department is ready to help deploy vaccines to children via schools and other providers when they are approved for use.

While local COVID-19 numbers look flat now, Escott said we won’t see the full effect of the removal of the statewide mask mandate, the 100% reopening of businesses, spring break gatherings and this holiday week for three to six weeks after those events happen.

Based on some projections, Escott said, if people maintain risk-mitigating behaviors, the area could enter stage 2 of APH's risk-based guidelines as early as the third week of April. Under that stage, higher risk individuals aren't asked to avoid travel and it's OK for people to gather with 25 people, up from 10. Businesses would be recommended to open to 75% capacity.

Escott said it’s feasible to be in stage 1 by summer.

Watch Wednesday's news conference here.

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