Health Watch

Austin confirms first 2 cases of coronavirus, extends disaster declaration

Austin confirms 2 cases of coronavirus, extends disaster declaration

Doctor using a tablet
The first cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Austin. Photo by andrei_r/Getty Images

Just hours after Austin City Council voted to extend its local state of disaster declaration through April 5, Austin Public Health has confirmed the city's first two cases of coronavirus. 

During a 6 am news conference on Friday, March 13, Mayor Steve Adler was joined by members of Austin Public Health, including interim Medical Director Dr. Mark E. Escott. Escott confirmed that the two Austin-Travis County cases are a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s.

"Austin Public Health has received two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 overnight in our jurisdiction. These represent the first two cases in our area," said Escott, who added that information was limited.

As of now, Austin Public Health believes the two cases are linked to cases outside the city. 

The man is currently in isolation at an area hospital. The woman, who is not from Austin, is being quarantined inside a home somewhere in the city. Escott confirmed that there are other people in the home with the woman, and they are currently being monitored and screened for COVID-19. Escott said that they are either having no symptoms or mild symptoms.

Escott also urged calm, despite an unnerving 24 hours that saw the cancellation of Austin schools and drastic protocol changes for local universities — including the University of Texas at Austin. 

"The virus is not going to jump and grab you," Escott said in the press conference. (Watch the full conference here.) 

Without a treatment for coronavirus, Escott reiterated that the best defense is the same mantra that's been circulating for days: wash your hands, don't touch your face, cough or sneeze into a bent elbow, and stay home if you're sick. 

"Regardless if [a person] think[s] they have COVID-19 or the flu, when you are sick, you must stay home. You must get better," he said. "That's the best thing you can do to recover yourself and the best thing you can do to protect the community."

Escott also urged those who are sick to not rush to the ER, but instead use other resources, including calling their doctor and using telehealth options, if available.

At the end of the conference, a reporter asked for clarification on the mixed messaging surrounding coronavirus. Should Austin residents continue to go out and support local business — an increasing concern in the fallout of SXSW's cancellation? Or stay home? 

"If you are over the age of 65, if you have significant health conditions, you need to be less tolerant of going out into crowded settings ... where you might have a chance of contacting a sick person. If you are young and healthy, it should be less of a concern for you. 

"People are going to get this — children are going to get this, adults are going to get this, VIPs are going to get this," Escott continued. "But if we think about this with level heads, respond appropriately and get better ... then we'll do just fine."