Austin Public Health officials advise students to avoid travel, wear masks over holidays

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Photo Credit: Emma George | Daily Texan Staff

Some students canceled their travel plans as COVID-19 cases continue to rise before the holiday season, but others still plan to see family or friends while attempting to follow health guidelines.

Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County medical director and health authority, said Travis County residents should abandon all travel for the holidays. If college students are going home, it is recommended they wear masks around their family to decrease the spread of COVID-19. 

As of Tuesday evening, there are currently 2,716 active cases in Austin, according to the Austin-Travis County COVID-19 dashboard, and 169,826 active cases in Texas, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. Within the UT community, there is an estimated 85 active cases and an 8.7% clinical positivity rate among students since June 1, according to the UT-Austin COVID-19 dashboard

Mathematics sophomore Veronica King, an out-of-state student, said she plans to go home for Christmas, but her mother works as a health care professional in Alabama and is immunocompromised. 

“I think it's more likely that she'll introduce me to COVID-19 than I introduce her because she does work in the medical field,” King said. “I don't think we'll be wearing masks around each other.”

 

King said she would be comfortable asking her family to wear a mask, but she doesn’t think they would.

“If we were both at a level where we thought that masks would be necessary, we would just cancel the entire visit,” King said. 

Business management junior Zaheer Pirani said if his parents asked him to wear a mask at home, he would not return for Thanksgiving.

“I probably just wouldn’t come for Thanksgiving because it's an inconvenience for everybody,” Pirani said.

Dr. Kristin Mondy, chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at the Dell Medical School, said it would be best to avoid family gatherings with people outside the household because they could become superspreader events.

“A lot of these superspreader events, they weren't occurring among strangers,” Mondy said. “They were occurring among family members or among small gatherings with friends.”

Mondy said she worked at a hospital over the summer when there was a spike of cases in Texas, but there was little hospital transmission because workers always wore masks.

“We are wearing a mask at all times unless (we’re) eating,” Mondy said. “When we do eat, even in our cafeteria, there is a lot of social distancing there, and in doing those practices our risk has been low.