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Austin Warns COVID-19 Has Spread In The Community – And Slowing It Requires 'Every Single Person'

Dr. Mark Escott speaks during a news conference March 6 when South by Southwest was canceled due to health safety concerns.
Julia Reihs
Dr. Mark Escott speaks during a news conference March 6 when South by Southwest was canceled due to health safety concerns.

Austin-Travis County has evidence of community spread of COVID-19, Dr. Mark Escott, the interim medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health, said Friday.

This means people have been infected with the virus in the area – not from traveling – and they may not know how. As of Friday evening, there were 58 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness in Austin-Travis County.

“Our success in battling and defending this community against this virus depends on every single person in the community,” Escott said.

He said people should keep three important factors in mind: the disease is not an equal-opportunity killer, meaning older people and those with underlying conditions are more at-risk; people should stay home if they have symptoms like a cough or fever; and those feeling sick should call their doctors first to avoid crowding emergency rooms or urgent care facilities.

Some of the individuals who tested positive here have been in public spaces, Escott said, which is why his agency warned Tuesday the community should act is if there was sustained person-to-person spread.

“That was a warning to the community that if they’re amongst other people, there is some risk of exposure and spread,” Escott said. “That’s why we want people to be very careful about going out in public if they don’t have to.”

Escott says the city is expecting more testing capacity to arrive soon and is hopeful that community testing sites will be launched as early as Saturday. But that does not mean everyone who wants to get tested can yet, he said.

“We still have to prioritize those who are at higher risk, those who are hospitalized, our health care workers and our first responders to ensure that they have access because it’s important for public health and for our infrastructure,” Escott said.

There is not yet stress on the local health care system, he said, but that is something being monitored on an hourly basis, so that “if we do start to see stress, we can make different decisions.”

Escott said officials are not yet sure how many of the positive cases were the result of community spread, but they are investigating five clusters of related cases and will share more information when they have it. 

Escott said the community needs to work together right now.

“Our goal is that we don’t have a rapid increase in cases which are going to exceed our health care capacity,” he said. “If we do, that could lead to unnecessary deaths, so we all have to be strong together so that we can achieve this goal together and flatten that curve.”

This post has been updated with the latest count of positive cases in Austin-Travis County.

Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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