AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Health officials in the Texas state capital on Wednesday again urged people to avoid holiday gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, as hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients soared heading into the Christmas weekend.
There is such a high rate of transmission in Austin that people should consider themselves at risk anywhere they go in the city, Dr. Mark Escott, the interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority, said during a news conference. Most often, people are passing the coronavirus to family and friends who they feel comfortable around without wearing a mask.
There has been a 97% increase in positive COVID-19 cases and an 80% increase in the seven-day average number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Austin since Dec 1, Escott said.
“This is a critical moment for the community,” Escott said. “We must decrease the spread of the virus in the community now. We cannot allow another increase in cases and hospitalizations following the upcoming holidays. Our hospitals will become overwhelmed and people will needlessly die.”
Travis County Judge Andy Brown echoed the cries for caution and called on businesses to voluntarily limit occupancy, move to contactless operations and not operate between 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Business restrictions would be voluntary because Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order on the virus says business should stay open. Abbott, who received a COVID-19 vaccine on live television Tuesday, has said he won’t impose new lockdown measures, even as cases climb.
This week the number of daily hospitalizations in Texas exceeded 10,000 for the first time since an outbreak in July that saw daily hospitalizations near 11,000.
Nearly 26,000 people have died in Texas due to COVID-19, the second highest death count in the country, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 1,330, with 735 new cases per 100,000 people. One in every 254 people in Texas tested positive in the past week.