AUSTIN, TX — The number of University of Texas at Austin students coming down with coronavirus after a spring break trip to coastal Mexico rose to 44 — 16 more than originally reported by health officials — according to a school spokesman.
Austin Public Health officials on Tuesday confirmed 28 students had tested positive for the virus causing that causes the respiratory illness after returning to Austin from a vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. By Wednesday, UT-Austin spokesman J.B. Bird confirmed the number of diagnosed cases among the group of some 70 UT-Austin students who had chartered a plane to Mexico had grown to 44. Bird confirmed the level after an inquiry from Patch, adding all those affected are UT-Austin students.
The students’ trip defied health officials’ advice centered on limiting outings solely to necessary trips — grocery store shopping, medicine retrieval at pharmacies or visits to the bank for needed financial transactions for example — in adhering to social distancing guidelines. Lacking a vaccine for the disease, health officials have pointed to physical distancing — maintaining a buffer of at least six feet between people — as the most effective way of mitigating potential illness spread.
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The illness is transmitted via respiratory droplets emitted by infected people through coughing or sneezing, health officials have said.
In a related front, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott reported a patient in his or her 20s under critical condition after being infected with COVID-19. It’s unclear if the young patient was among students returning from Mexico. Escott’s latest health update revealing the news underscored the importance of social distancing as a way to mitigate illness spread, his message referencing youthful residents who may think themselves impervious to disease.
“The health of the public is in the hands of the community,” Escott said in a prepared statement. “It is important to understand that young people are not immune from serious illness. We implore the community to stay at home even if you are not feeling ill, and before leaving your house ask yourself ‘Is this trip necessary?’ It is the entire community’s responsibility to stop the spread, including our young adults and teens.”
The day after the mass illness was reported by media outlets, UT-Austin officials produced an educational video posted on Twitter meant to educate students about the illness scourge. “We’re concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic and a spike in the number of positives in our student body,” the post accompanying the video reads. “Longhorns, take this matter seriously, do your part, social distance and follow all public health guidelines.”
The video features UT-Austin spokesman J.B. Bird asking questions related to health safeguards of Dr. Soncia Reagins-Lilly, the university’s vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and Dr. Terrance Hines, executive director and chief medical