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Ugh, is COVID going around again?

Crowds enjoy food, drinks and amusement rides during UT's SEC Celebration on June 30. Austin Public Health Authority Desmar Walkes said summer gatherings could be contributing to an uptick in COVID-related emergency room visits.
Manoo Sirivelu
KUT News
Austin Public Health Authority Desmar Walkes said summer gatherings could be contributing to an uptick in COVID-related emergency room visits.

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“It’s been gradually happening over the last two or three weeks,” Desmar Walkes, Austin’s Public Health Authority, said in a dispiriting video call last week.

Austin is seeing a slight uptick in COVID-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Statewide cases have been gradually ticking up, too.

And from anecdotal experience, it seems everyone is catching something this summer. An r/Austin Reddit post about COVID going around garnered hundreds of comments from locals with sniffles and scratchy throats.

Austinite Samantha Keele got COVID for the third time last weekend.

"Felt like allergies on steroids and the fatigue was wild," she said in an email.

It hit close to home when I arrived at KUT’s office one day and two desks sat empty — coworkers were out recovering.

But, are we sure COVID is to blame for the flu-like symptoms going around?

An at-home COVID-19 testing kit.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
At-home testing has made it difficult to assess spread in the community.

Austin stopped reporting COVID-19 cases in March, and at-home testing has made it difficult to paint an accurate picture of how prevalent the virus is in our community. Beyond anecdotes and data from emergency room visits, it’s hard to tell if what's going around at large is COVID, the common cold or respiratory troubles from the Saharan dust that's made its way to Austin.

Walkes said it's this — people assuming they have something other than COVID — that could be contributing to the uptick in emergency room visits.

“People [assume] that it’s maybe allergies or a cold and then they go to a gathering to be with friends and family and it spreads,” she said.

Walkes said those summer gatherings are often indoors, away from the heat, in air conditioned rooms with poor ventilation.

So, what do you do if you’re not feeling well?

Walkes recommends wearing a mask and social distancing if you have flu-like symptoms and taking a test even if you think it's just allergies. She also recommends staying up to date on booster shots, which means receiving the updated COVID vaccine when it's released later this year.

If you get a positive test, stay home and take it easy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say you can return to normal activities when your symptoms have improved and you've gone without a fever (without using fever-reducing drugs) for 24 hours.

After that, the CDC recommends taking added precaution over the next five days, such as masking and social distancing, as you still might be contagious.

Lucciana Choueiry contributed to this report.

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