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COVID in Austin Update (June 29)

News

A few particular things I wanted to share today.

Travis County Parks will be closed this coming Thursday through Tuesday. City of Austin late on Monday announced the same. Virtually all the parks did this around Easter to try to discourage people from gathering.

Williamson County itself still won’t mandate businesses to require masks, but the cities within the county are taking action themselves. Round Rock and Cedar Park announced that masks will be mandated starting July 1. Cedar Park’s mayor shared that Georgetown, Taylor, Hutto, and Leander will issue similar orders.

The University of Texas unveiled a new website with their plans for the Fall Semester. The current plan is to kick things off at “Level 2“, the third of six states between “Normal Operations” and “End-of-Spring Closure”. Masks will be required and classes won’t have more than 40% of capacity. Students will have the option for a fully-online schedule too.

HEB is now limiting purchases again. Generally, toilet paper 🧻 and other sanitary products are limited. The only food item limited in Central Texas is briskets. Limit 2. 🐮

In Houston, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston announced four priests, including the former archbishop and a former auxiliary bishop, have tested positive as part of a small cluster at cases at their retired priest residence. 12 have tested negative and two are still outstanding. So far, not serious.

Statewide, TABC visited 1,500 bars over the weekend to ensure compliance with the Governor’s latest executive order. 59 were operating in violation of the order. 52 agreed to close immediately. The remaining seven did not agree to close and are facing a 30-day license suspension now, including The Park @ The Domain in Austin.

Data

State of Texas

On a potential good note, for the first time in nearly a week, we have less than 5,000 new cases: 4,288.🤞I don’t see any reason why it would go down yet, but hey, maybe we can get lucky.

Hospitalizations, as expected, increased. After a slight decrease yesterday, we’ve set a new record at 5,913 current hospitalizations.

Travis County (Austin)

In Austin, we had 508 new cases, second only to yesterday’s 636. Sadly, we had 4 deaths, most in a day since May 12th (we had a few days of either 5 or 6 daily deaths earlier during the pandemic).

We had 48 new hospitalizations (down from 60 yesterday), but the overall trend moves up our 7-day average to 53.4. We have 7 more people in the ICU (121) and five more people on ventilators (65).

Commentary

I enjoyed a story this morning from NPR’s Morning Edition speaking with two former federal health officials. In particular, I like the way they phased the need to wear masks.

So, you know, it does require a little bit of the society coming together and decide what’s important. Is it more important for us to wear masks, or is it more important for us to send our kids to school? Is it more important to invest in contact tracing and testing, or is it more important to decide not to follow kind of the guidance that’s out there? And that’s going to be a really important set of decisions that we’re going to face in the next weeks, if not immediately.

Andy Slavitt, former director of Medicare and Medicaid

Is going to the bar this weekend more important than being able to send our kids to school in the fall?

The interview did underscore and make clear, again, that the increase in positive cases is not because of increased testing. It just isn’t true.

In terms of the statewide response, I agree with virtually every word of Ross Ramsey’s column. In the early days, I thought the state should have acted sooner, but I wasn’t terribly worried because Austin/Travis County did act. Whether or not, Gov. Abbott would do anything, it didn’t matter since the local folks were on top of things.

Then, he did act. He did what I thought was reasonable. I was happy with his reaction originally.

Then, it turned political. Abbott rode into the crisis like a general arriving after the initial fighting had happened—without him. Then, he seemed to see the “war” over, took off the helmet, and became a politician again. Yes, our financial health is important. Hearing that unemployment has tripled in the Valley hurts. It hurts to see local breweries asking people to just buy their beer—from anywhere—since every business needs help. My kids’ pre-school is taking about permanent closure depending on how the next 4-6 weeks shake out.

There were ways to account for that without a straight reopening. From day one after we closed, I knew and a lot of us knew that reopening too early because of the economy would not actually save the economy because people would be afraid to go out or they’d go out, re-trigger the pandemic, resulting in more closures.

Instead of a single, longer closure for this wave, we had a closure, a subpar reopening, and on the verge of new closures again. New York City has been closed longer, but they are in a far better position for a phased reopening than Texas. They were harder hit than Texas, but maybe not once we’re done with this.

So now, we’re seeing increasing cases, increasing hospitalizations, and while we haven’t seen an increase in deaths, we are still within the window where those deaths could have just not happened yet.

This is a slow-moving crisis. Gov. Abbott opened quickly and went against his own word by opening more faster before seeing the impact. Now, we’ve pulled back a little, but we won’t know for weeks if that was enough or not. Do we need to pull back more to ensure we’re not undercutting our efforts now? I don’t know, probably. But now it’s a political thing.

Abbott erred by getting into the mud about the salon owner. He turned his role from an emergency director to a politician. He changed the language that this was a crisis that we needed to work together as Texans to resolve to this is yet another example of right vs left, red vs blue.

And so now, the Governor is playing reactionary politics. He’s playing to his base and restricting local officials from acting. He tries to play the local card—saying that there are times where the entire state doesn’t need the same thing—while also not letting that card be played by others.

I was accused today of being a fear monger. I had to laugh a little. I don’t want to incite fear—and hope I haven’t. This isn’t anything to be scared of. This is something to be prepared for. That’s true for all emergency or crisis situations. Fear doesn’t help anything, but not being prepared for it and not taking something this serious seriously makes things far worse.

I want to get back to normal. I want my kids to go back to school. I want to go sit in a coffee shop. I want to go to church. I want a waiter to bring me coffee at breakfast after church. But, we have to get this under control and by jumping the gun, we just make it harder for ourselves longer.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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