Mask Wearing And Social Distancing Is Key For Reopening Schools And Keeping Them Open, Escott Says

Aug 5, 2020

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The top doctor at Austin Public Health says he’s concerned there could be a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

During a media briefing Wednesday, Dr. Mark Escott stressed the importance of wearing masks and social distancing in all situations, not just public outings. He and APH Director Stephanie Hayden said they’ve seen an increase in cases among gatherings of family and friends. 

“We’ve seen a plateau. We’re starting to see [an increasing trend] in terms of the hospital admissions,” he said. “My concern is that we’re going to bounce back into the stage 4 territory in the short time if we don’t continue to take those protective actions.” 

Escott said if COVID-19 numbers stay in the stage 3 or stage 4 range, it will be difficult to open schools next month and keep them open. 

“We’ve seen over and over again, across the country and across the globe, that when we reopen too quickly, while the disease is still spreading efficiently, that opening is short-lived and closures come soon after,” he said. “We don’t want a reopening plan that’s going to result in a situation like that.”

After a couple weeks of plateauing numbers and with the start of the school year less than three weeks away, Escott said, preventive measures are the key to opening schools safely. 

“If our priority is getting kids back in the classroom, we want to be very limited and measured on the risks that we take to avoid creating a situation that will put reopening schools at more risk.”

The number of new hospital admissions has been dropping over the last few weeks. The seven-day average puts the area within stage 3 of the city’s risk-based guidelines, which is between 10 and 39 new admissions. The area has stayed in stage 4, however, with tighter restrictions, because of other factors like ICU and ventilator capacity.  

“I think we want to wait until we have two weeks, at least, within stage 3 to make that transition,” he said. 

Health officials have seen a decrease in the number of people signing up to be tested through the city’s online enrollment form, Escott said. As a result, the city is getting results from nasal swab tests faster, he said, sometimes within one or two days. He said APH is lowering the testing threshold to allow some asymptomatic people to get tested. The agency is encouraging people to use the city’s form to see if they qualify for a COVID test.

This story has been updated.

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