City of AustinFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Initial investigation reports from Austin Public Health show evidence of a community spread of COVID-19.
Residents of Austin and Travis County are being asked to increase efforts to protect the at-risk population after initial investigation reports from Austin Public Health showed evidence of a community spread of COVID-19.
While it is still early in the epidemiologists’ investigation into the severity of the spread, officials say a critical point has been reached and it is important the public understand that individuals’ actions will impact the health of the whole community.
While COVID-19 causes only mild illness for most people, it poses danger to vulnerable populations, including older people and those who have underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. For people who are young and healthy, symptoms are most likely mild, but the risk of spreading the virus is the chief concern.
“This virus can hide behind mild symptoms and if you feel under-the-weather or have even a small cough or sniffle, it is important to stay home,” said interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott. “Before you go to work, school or shopping, check your symptoms and temperature, and if you have either stay home. This is to protect our elderly loved ones or those who have underlying health conditions.”
Under guidance issued by the local health authority today, March 20, everyone is asked to monitor their health frequently and anyone feeling any symptoms – however mild – is asked to check their temperature twice daily.
If an individual finds their temperature is 99.6 F or higher they should self-quarantine, by staying home and avoiding close physical contact with family members and roommates. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 also need to self-quarantine until they are well to reduce the risk of community spread.
Dr. Escott said: “It’s important that social distancing does not become social isolation. Outside activities are still very much encouraged as long as care is taken to maintain a safe distance from others.”
How COVID-19 spreads
- The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
- It spreads between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
- It is not airborne but is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
- There is no evidence that casual, brief interaction with somebody leads to transmission. The concern is when people gather in close quarters for longer periods.
Person-to-person spread means people who have been infected with the virus most likely came in contact with someone they know (i.e. spouse, roommate, child). Austin/Travis County has evidence of person-to-person spread.
Community spread means people have been infected with the virus but are not sure how or where they became infected. Initial investigation shows evidence of a community spread in Austin-Travis County.
The health authority preemptively leveled their operations to phase 5 earlier this week as testing remains limited. Even with more tests available, tests will continue to be prioritized for those who need them most – healthcare workers, hospital patients, individuals who live in nursing homes, and those at high risk of complications from the virus.
On March 11, the health authority increased protections on vulnerable populations by ordering more than 300 nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term care facilities to take a range of immediate actions to enhance protections against the spread of COVID-19. They included temperature-checking all employees, patients, visitors and volunteers prior to entry to the facility.
People at higher risk of getting severe symptoms from COVID-19 should:
- Ensure adequate supplies of medication and essentials.
- Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
- When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
- Avoid gatherings as much as possible.
- Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
Austin Public Health is continuing to ask the wider community to take everyday preventative actions to stop the spread of disease, including:
- Wash your hands.
- Cover sneezes and coughs with a bent elbow or tissue.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Stay home when you’re sick.
- Don’t visit a loved one in a nursing home if you are experiencing symptoms. If you are a caretaker, be sure to establish a plan in the event you are sick.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has launched a new Coronavirus Self-Checker to help individuals make decisions about seeking appropriate medical care. The Self-Checker can be accessed HERE.
For more information and updates, visit www.AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.