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Threat From COVID-19 Is Not Over, Austin Health Officials Say Ahead Of Labor Day Weekend

COVID-19 safety guidelines posted on the UT Austin campus on Aug. 21.
Michael Minasi
COVID-19 safety guidelines are posted on the UT Austin campus as the school semester begins.

Local health officials are urging people to avoid gathering with others from outside their households during the holiday weekend. As case numbers trend downward, they say they're concerned people may think the threat of COVID-19 is diminished.

Gatherings over the Memorial Day weekend were blamed for contributing to sharp rises in cases in the weeks that followed. Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden said at a news conference Friday that can be avoided if everyone does their part.

​ “We are definitely depending on the community to be leaders in this space," she said. "Our hope is that individuals will make the decision not to go out, not to have parties, whether they are having them at home or in public spaces.”   

As expected, UT Austin has seen an increase in positive test results since students returned to campus. Austin Public Health’s Dr. Mark Escott said Friday that UT-associated cases amounted to 23% of all cases in Austin-Travis County over the past week, in part due to proactive testing. 

Though local numbers have been improving, he said it’s important to stay the course. That means limiting backyard barbecues to people who live in your household.  

​“I know we want to celebrate. We want to be out this holiday weekend and be with family and friends," he said. "But if we go too far – if we take too much risk right now when we’re about to start the opening of schools, then we’re going to pay for it in two or three weeks.”

With some schools opening Tuesday at 25% capacity for in-person classes, Escott said parents should be prepared. He suggested sending kids to school with extra face masks, as well as hand sanitizer and surface-cleaning wipes if age appropriate.

He said it was even more important for parents to screen these children for COVID-19 symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or change in their smell or taste.  

“If they have any of those things, they need to stay home,” Escott said, recommending parents have plan so they don’t feel pressured to send a child to school with symptoms.

The current positivity rate of cases in Austin-Travis County is 6.2%. APH has said it should be below 5% across all racial and ethnic groups for the area to open up more.

Escott said with the virus is not going away soon and a vaccine may be six to nine months out. He reminded people to continue to wear masks, socially distance and wash their hands regularly.

This story has been updated. 

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