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COVID in Austin Update (June 26)

Statewide

Big day, so let’s jump right in. Governor Abbott issued GA-27, an executive order “relating to the targeted response to the COVID-19 disaster”. The key points:

  • Bars are now closed (as of Noon today). To-go service is still allowed, so, for example, a brewery can still sell beer for at-home consumption.
  • Restaurants must limit indoor dining to 50% of capacity, effective June 29th. Previously 75%.
  • Outdoor gatherings of more than 100 are banned, unless specifically allowed by the mayor or county judge. Previously, it was gatherings of 100+ could be regulated by local authorities. Prior to this week, it was 500+.
  • Rafting and tubing businesses—like going to go tubing down the river—are closed.
  • As before, generally, everything is open at 50% capacity with the same exceptions as before (salons, etc can exceed as long as there is proper distance, outdoor venues are not capped except for pools, et al).

To stay positive, at least it is something to try to get this under some type of control. The downside is we won’t really know for another 9-16 days how effective these efforts are and if they are enough. My understanding is contact tracing in Texas was not at the level the Governor said we would be at for this phase of reopening, which is especially problematic now, since that hurts our ability to suitably understand where the transmission vectors are. Bars and restaurants logically make sense.

I hope this will help people realize the need for masks and taking this seriously. Closing a bar won’t help prevent situations like the family, who after a surprise birthday party, now has 18 members positive with 3 hospitalized. Masks and staying home unless necessary really is still the best course of action.

On a personal front, us and my in-laws have formed a “bubble” where we agreed to the same standards—no direct personal interactions with folks outside the bubble else a 14-day waiting period, etc—so we now interact with each other like before. The kids go to their house, they come over like before. I appreciate total isolation for 100 days is hard, but there are ways to expand that very conservatively.

I realize this hurts businesses, which does mean it hurts individuals, friends, and family. Most businesses aren’t the huge international seemingly faceless companies. Without getting into a broader political question, this is the time where emergency failsafes are to be used. If we should be paying more or less taxes, more or less regulation, whatever, those are fine political conversations, but this would be the time to use the ability of government to try to keep the ship afloat. Anyhow.

Also, from the Governor’s Office, after news earlier this week that the Federal government would pull back funding for testing sites, Gov. Abbott announced that the Feds will continue to provide funding.

Coming out of Washington, Associate Justice Samuel Alito denied the Democratic Party of Texas’ attempt to enforce a federal court order to allow mail-in ballots for all voters because of the coronavirus. The argument was that lack of immunity to the coronavirus should be considered a “disability” in terms of the state election law.

A qualified voter is eligible for early voting by mail if the voter has a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on election day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health.

Texas Election Code 82.002

There was additionally a second argument that 82.003—”A qualified voter is eligible for early voting by mail if the voter is 65 years of age or older on election day.”—is violating the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 26th protects the right to vote will not be “denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”

Justice Sotomayor thought that was interesting and should be considered before the general election, but not within the context of an emergency request today.

In short, if you were hoping to be able to vote-by-mail in Texas for the run-off and special state senate election next month and didn’t already qualify to do so, you still won’t. There’s no further recourse for this election. 😬

Harris County (Houston) issued a “Stay-at-Home Advisory“. Since the Governor’s statewide orders overrule a county or city’s ability to do almost anything, Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a largely unenforceable advisory that mirrors the Stay-at-Home orders from earlier in the pandemic. Basically, Harris County has determined they should shut everything down, but can’t.

Data

Good news? We didn’t set a record for new cases today (5,707, down 289 from yesterday’s record) and positivity is very slightly down—still 11%.

Hospitalizations set another record for the 15th straight day. We broke the 5k mark to hit 5,102.

Hays County (San Marcos)

Cases are still very high, but seems to be only bouncing around a bit—not pointing straight up like they were there a week ago or so.

Hays does have a “businesses must require masks” order.

Williamson County (Georgetown/Round Rock)

Similar to Hays, new cases are still very high, but without the rate of increase we saw a short time ago.

Williamson does not have a mask order.

Travis County (Austin)

There’s not much to report hyperlocally today. Austin Public Health is upgrading their dashboard and said they are updating their daily dashboard. Like last time, I’m expecting them not to have a number for new cases today and that they’ll combine them for tomorrow’s report.

Last time they did this, Mayor Adler released some numbers (and ended up misstating one of them!), so I’ll append those here later tonight if he does that again. Last time, he announced total hospitalized and new entries, so we’ll see if we get that again. I’m not going to wait on it though.

On the news front, two things.

Until tomorrow, stay well, stay home, and wear a mask.

Update:

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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