Flu activity is very high and COVID-19 is still circulating ahead of the holiday season

Austin, Texas – There is much to be thankful for this season as we make strides in the fight against COVID-19, but now we face yet another threat. Epidemiologists at Austin Public Health (APH) are monitoring troubling upper respiratory virus trends, especially hospitalized children. When friends and family get together for holiday celebrations, it’s important to consider those who are at increased risk of poor outcomes should they become ill. Get the latest flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, stay home if you feel sick and take preventative measures to reduce the spread of viruses indoors.

The area’s emergency rooms are overwhelmed with patients with upper respiratory conditions. The influenza positivity rate in Travis County for the most recent reporting period is 26.88%. It’s usually less than 10% at this point in the season. The percentage of visits to healthcare providers due to a flu-like illness is 8% – much higher than it has been at this point in the past few years (see chart below). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the seasonal flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age or older.

“If you haven’t already, please get a seasonal flu shot,” said Dr. Desmar Wokes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority. “If we can limit the spread of those viruses in our community, it will help our healthcare system which is already struggling with healthcare shortages for high-risk patients.”

Percentage of visits due to an influenza-like illness reported in Travis County (Week 45)

Everyone 6 months of age and older is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines. More than 71% of eligible Travis County residents have completed their initial COVID-19 vaccination series. Only about 37% received a booster or third dose. The CDC recommends that everyone age five and older receive an updated booster (bivalent) dose. Updated boosters provide broader protection against newer COVID-19 variants including BA.5 prevalent in Travis County.

Stay home if you feel sick. Viruses are more likely to spread during indoor group gatherings. If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, the CDC recommends masking and testing at least five days after exposure. If you have COVID-19, stay home and isolate from others for at least five days.

“Friends and family who haven’t seen each other in years due to the pandemic may get together for the holidays. While this is a time to celebrate, we can’t let our guard down,” said Adrienne Stroup, director of APH. “Continue to follow the lessons we learned to keep you and your loved ones safe and out of the hospital.”

If you’re hosting guests this holiday season, consider ways to improve ventilation. Ensure that it is easy for visitors to wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizers. You may also choose to wear an appropriate mask to protect yourself and loved ones who may be at higher risk of serious illness.

Media Toolkit

APH has put together health and safety messages for the upcoming holiday season. Access our media toolkit and help us share best practices to mitigate the spread of disease.

Vaccine providers

Visit Vaccines.gov (Vacunas.gov in Spanish) to find flu and COVID-19 vaccine providers near you.

Free COVID-19 tests

COVID-19 at-home test kits are available at APH Neighborhood Centers while supplies last. The Department of Health and Human Services lists online community testing sites.

Free masks (N-95 respirators)

Use the CDC’s Mask Locator to find pharmacies near you that offer free masks (N-95 respirators). It doesn’t show current inventories, so check the site for availability.

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About Austin Public Health

Austin Public Health is the health department for the City of Austin and Travis County. Austin Public Health works to prevent disease, promote health, and protect the well-being of all by monitoring and preventing infectious diseases and environmental threats and by educating about the benefits of preventative behaviors to avoid chronic disease and improve health outcomes.

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