The breakneck pace at which this crisis has unfolded is astonishing. Here’s a timeline.
March 4: In response to concerns about SXSW, Mark Escott, interim director of Austin Public Health, says there is “no evidence that closing SXSW is going to make the community safer” and said “the threat of community spread is low” in Austin
March 6: Mayor Steve Adler declares an emergency that cancels SXSW
March 7: Adler, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Kirk Watson urge Austinites to support businesses impacted by SXSW’s cancellation by going out to bars, restaurants and live music venues. (The video has since been taken down from all of their Twitter feeds)
March 10: Escott announces that events over 2,500 people will be subject to closure if they cannot present satisfactory plans on how to mitigate the risk of infection. However, he tells City Council members that there was no reason to discourage people without symptoms of going out to bars and restaurants since there was “no local spread.”
March 11: Escott announces new measures aimed at protecting infection at nursing homes and emphasized that those under 50 have very low risk of dying of the disease.
March 13: Austin has its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19. Escott says Travis County is now at Phase 3 of the COVID plan, which describes confirmed cases but no person-to-person spread.
March 14: Adler and Eckhardt announce ban on gatherings of more than 250 people.
March 17: Adler announces closure of bars and dine-in restaurants and bans gatherings of more than 10 people. Austin Public Health says the area is now at Phase 5, indicating “sustained community spread”
March 19: Travis County up to 41 positive cases. Far more are likely out there but haven’t been tested.
March 21: Up to 61 confirmed cases.
Most of us are not yet in a position to judge the actions that public officials took in recent weeks based on the information they had at the time. However, this sequence of events, which mirrors the rapidly changing response at the national level, illustrates just how hopeless we may be at predicting the full impact of this virus on our health care system and economy. As hungry as we may be for reassurance from experts that this crisis will soon pass, I would be wary of anybody who expresses confidence about what will happen next.
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