AUSTIN, Texas — Thousands of people packed Sixth Street in Downtown Austin on Halloween night.
While many wore masks, as depicted in these viewer photos, you can see few were practicing social distancing.
Austin Public Health (APH) and city leaders had been asking the public to refrain from large gatherings like these in the weeks leading up to Halloween.
In the days leading up to Saturday night, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Mark Escott said officials were looking into tactics to avoid a possible surge in COVID-19 cases over the holiday season. APH also discouraged trick or treating this year.
"I'll tell you right now, if we experience a surge during Thanksgiving, that surge will not be over by Christmas," Escott said. "It took us a long time to recover from the first surge and we can expect that this one, particularly if it were worse than the first one, may take even longer."
At the time, Dr. Escott said that Austin Public Health was concerned about its most limited asset, which is hospital personnel.
"We know that with increasing activity of COVID-19, we can expect increasing absenteeism on our staff. Are they sick themselves or caring for someone who is sick?" Escott said.
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Last week, APH Director Stephanie Hayden also issued a plea to Travis County residents.
"This can be avoided," Hayden said. "We can come together as a community, as an individual and with your household, and we can make a decision that we are not going to overrun our hospital systems. We are going to get our flu shots. We are going to establish our goals for the end of the year. We are going to continue to wash our hands often. We are going to be six feet distanced from others. And we are going to continue to wear our face coverings. Austin-Travis County ... we know that you can do this and you've always stepped up. So we are going to avoid these hospitalizations because we've done it before, so we will do it again."
Ken Cassaday, the Austin Police Association president and an officer who works downtown nights, said it was so packed Saturday night that he would not be surprised if a COVID-19 outbreak resulted from this crowd.
While Travis County has not elected to allow bars to reopen per the latest order from Gov. Greg Abbott, bars are still currently allowed to reopen as restaurants.
KVUE reached out to the City of Austin and Austin Public Health for a statement regarding these crowds. Here is Escott's statement in response to the crowds:
"Austin Public Health officials have seen the photos of crowds on 6th Street during Halloween weekend and are disappointed that so many individuals would choose to risk their health and the health of their loved ones during this time when COVID-19 cases are rising across the country and across Texas.
We encourage everyone who was involved in crowded gatherings outside of their household this weekend, whether on 6th Street or elsewhere, to get tested for COVID-19 later this week. They are also advised to stay at home to self-isolate and should not visit friends or loved ones who are considered high-risk. APH cannot prevent a spike in cases ahead of the winter holidays without the support and cooperation of our community. A spike in cases will lead to needless hospitalizations and deaths."
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