COVID-19 Latest: Austin Public Health Opens Up Testing To Anyone Who Wants It

Aug 18, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, Aug. 18. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Austin Public Health attributes increase in cases to backlog in data

Austin Public Health reported 350 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Tuesday, up from 265 reported yesterday.

The health authority says it’s been reporting an increase in cases since last week because of backlogged data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. It received about 2,200 lab reports from DSHS on Thursday, but says most of the results are duplicates of cases APH has already investigated.

“APH will continue to process the backlogged lab results and will not know the true impact of the reporting error until processing is complete,” the health authority said in a press release.

Two additional deaths related to COVID-19 were reported Tuesday, bringing the county’s death total to 337.

APH reported there are now 230 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell), down from 236 yesterday. Despite that net decrease, there were 23 new COVID-19 hospital admissions reported in the region Tuesday. The seven-day average of new admissions is 29.4, down from 32.7.

Local officials are keeping an eye on that average and adjusting restrictions based on it and other factors, like ICU and ventilator capacities. An average below 40 could push the region down to stage 3 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, but officials have recommended the area remain in stage 4, the second-highest level, for now.

Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter set to reopen Thursday

Austin-based movie chain Alamo Drafthouse is inching toward opening some of its theaters for the first time in months. The theater on Slaughter Lane is reopening Thursday, one of eight locations nationwide opening by the weekend. 

The Drafthouse has instituted a number of rules, including requiring guests and employees to wear masks when not eating or drinking and to social distance. Theaters and bathrooms will be cleaned regularly, and hand sanitizer will be available throughout the theater, according to its website. Employees, guests and vendors will have their temperatures checked when they arrive, the website says.

Guests may be asked to leave – with their tickets refunded – if they appear to be sick.

The Drafthouse said it plans to open about half its 41 locations by the end of August. 

Austin Public Health opens up COVID-19 testing to find asymptomatic cases

Austin Public Health is opening up coronavirus testing to anyone who asks for a test. The change is an effort to identify more cases in people who don’t have any symptoms and may be spreading the virus without knowing it.

Austin-Travis County interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said Tuesday this is among the next steps in getting the epidemic under control.

“We are trying to increase our testing so that we can capture more of those positive cases, even the asymptomatic ones, and push that positivity rate lower and lower before Sept. 8," Escott said, referencing the first day of school in Austin ISD.

The latest COVID-19 testing positivity rate is 8.8%. It’s been headed down for the last four weeks, but remains above the goal of 5%. The seven-day average of daily confirmed cases is at 208, which has remained steady since the end of July.

— Trey Shaar

Escott says there's more work to do as COVID-19 cases plateau

Austin Public Health's Dr. Mark Escott says with COVID-19 projections from UT Austin remaining flat into September, there’s more work to be done.

"This is going to take more work from us, from our community to push through this plateau to ensure that we can be in a better place come Sept. 8," he said.

Escott updated the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday on some of the more positive data points. He said currently there is plenty of hospital capacity. The numbers of cases in nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been gradually decreasing. The seven-day average of patients in the ICU is just under 90, the lowest it’s been since June 25.

And for the first time since July, the percentage of coronavirus patients admitted to a hospital who are Black — 8.4% — fell to align with the representation of Black people in Travis County. 

It was not all good news. Escott said there was an an uptick in the percentage of Hispanic patients admitted to the hospital this week. There was also an increase in hospitalizations among folks aged 70 to 79, which could mean an uptick in the number of deaths in the coming weeks. And there was a rise in new cases among the young, though if past data is an indication, that will likely have a limited impact on hospitals.

— Jimmy Maas

Capital Metro returns to near-normal service levels

After months of reduced service, Capital Metro buses are running a close-to-normal schedule once again. The agency made the changes Sunday.

Executive Vice President Sharmila Mukherjee said some busy routes, like the 801, the 803 and the 20, will add service to prevent crowding and allow for better social distancing.

She said ridership has rebounded to around 45% of pre-pandemic levels. Service is still either reduced or suspended on some MetroExpress commuter routes.

More information can be found here.

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What's happening statewide? Check out special coverage from KERA for North Texas, Houston Public MediaTexas Public Radio in San Antonio and Marfa Public Radio.

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