When a cool river is a Coronavirus hot spot

Rio Vista Park in San Marcos was crowded on Sunday, June 21. The city is again closing all river parks, effective Thursday, June 25. Five Mile Dam park will close at the same time.

Nothing takes the edge off the Texas summer sun like a float on a cool, spring-fed river.

As it turns out, the coronavirus flourishes in that same environment.

Floating the San Marcos, Guadalupe and Comal rivers was among the high-risk activities brought forward by Hays County Epidemiologist Eric Schneider on Wednesday during a Zoom press conference with area media.

Hays County had 441 positive cases on June 8 and 1,093 on June 16.

People in their 20s accounted for 125 of those cases on June 8 and 568 on June 16. Most of those people live in San Marcos.

Schneider also mentioned high levels of transmission have occurred among people who have attended protests in the wake of the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. However, those crowds are more multi-generational, and the Hays Free Press has observed that many people attending demonstrations wear face masks while the same is not true of river traffic.

Schneider lauded those tubing companies who are “doing the right thing,” staggering and spreading out the number of people they put on the river at one time but he did not identify which companies were exercising those best practices. The San Marcos Lions Club, which operate the in-town tubing stretch, is now limiting its operations to those who register in advance. Check out their Facebook page or call 512-396-5466 or visit tubesanmarcos.com for more information. Don’s Fish Camp and Texas State Tubes, which operate on the lower river, also have a presence on Facebook.

Schneider said he drove across the Guadalupe and Comal rivers last weekend and “could have walked across just stepping on tubes. If one person had it (COVID-19), there’s a good chance 20 other people are going to get it.”

In terms of high risk occupations, Schneider listed health care providers, construction workers and food service workers.

The flurry of cases detected since Memorial Day represent an infection rate of about one in five. “Most residents should assume they take the risk of coming into contact with someone with COVID-19 every time they leave their home,” he said.

Schneider also addressed for the first time the county’s 15 residents currently hospitalized. They range in age from 45 to 75. The county’s five fatalities have all been in persons over the age of 60.

Schneider also had good words for restaurants, bars and other businesses who have notified customers and shut down after an employee had tested positive for the virus; noting that he has no power to shut down any business and that CDC guidelines are just that.

Even though contract tracing may be the most useful tool in understanding and eliminating COVID-19, it has its own problems. Though he’s followed up on every case since the first one on March 13, he noted that no one is required to answer any questions about where they work, where the have been and who they have interacted with.

“A lot of our data doesn’t actually synch up,” as a result, he said. “We just try to get as much information as we can.

Schneider also spoke about increased testing and the resumption of in-person classes at Texas State University in a few weeks.

He reiterated the necessity of wearing a mask in public, maintaining distance from others and washing hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with warm water.

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